Bird Language

Rani Jayakumar

© Copyright 2020 by Rani Jayakumar

Photo by Dave Francis on Unsplash
Photo by Dave Francis on Unsplash

I've recently, during the pandemic, begun closely noting the behavior of the birds, now that they are more plentiful where I live. They live full lives, as I've noticed, and have a world all to themselves. 

I have a friend who insists that birds converse with him. When he talks, he says, “The bird was telling me to stop,” or “It asked me to…” or “We agreed…” as if this little creature were another person, a human, capable of full conversation. But perhaps the truth is something slightly different - that his ears and body are attuned to the language of birds.

We humans speak in full sentences. We can convey things in speech, writing, in text, sometimes with no need for a body at all. But in person we do more - our body speaks silently. I can warn my children with a look, exchange understanding with a friend with a smile, express anger by doing (seemingly) nothing. We talk in our eyes, our gestures, our posture, our cheeks, our hands, even our feet. We excrete pheromones which may tell more about us than we realize.

So it was that day when I walked along a well-trodden path near my home. It’s a little dirt walkway with a fence on either side. One side has strawberry trees and grape vines and small entrances with gates. The other hosts ancient eucalyptus trees and creeping vines, as well as patches of bushy grass that often holds dew and sparkles.

I recognized a black-eyed junco that dropped to a clear area on the ground between two trees. It was pecking at the ground. Soon another, duller gray bird joined it - the female. The conversation between them was sparse, but sounded much like my own with my husband when we are working on a task together.

When I stepped a little closer, they gave each other a warning chirp, and flitted away. When I relaxed, they seemed to relax. As I tensed, they moved away. Was there something in my emotional state they could read?

They continued to eat, occasionally sending chirps my way. I tried to understand, but couldn’t. Eventually, I left, warned off. After all, I was intruding on their meal.

I’ve seen many juncos since. Some warn other birds away, and fight over the bird feeder. Others are protective of their family members. There’s always a sound to accompany each action, a language by which they communicate. Just like us, these feathered friends have full lives with clear communication. Perhaps, also, they can teach us the value of brevity.

Contact Rani

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Rani's story list and biography

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher