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Friend or Foe? – Our Feathered Friends Know

Mourning Dove Doorway Nest

Our Mourning Doves

A few weeks back, a mourning dove nested in a hanging basket at the doorway of our well-traveled mudroom.  We have taken great care not to threaten the nest, and our courtesy has paid off.  We have a front row view of the nest – watching the nestlings grow into fledglings, soon to fly away.

Even though we have been careful not to disturb the nest, I was surprised that the doves stayed and flourished.  They appear relatively comfortable and unchanged when we are around.  Conversely, they become alert and even fly away, if a stranger comes near.

Do the doves know and trust us? Is it even possible for a wild bird to recognize and remember a particular person?  Yes, they can.

When Birds Attack

When Gulls Attack

Wild birds can identify individual people and remember if they have threatened them in the past.   In a recent University of Florida study, mockingbirds recognized and took an aggressive action towards test individuals who had approached their nest over a five day period.  Similarly, the mockingbirds ignored other passersby who had not approached the nest before.

The study concluded that mockingbirds could clearly recognize specific individuals, retain negative perceptions about those individuals, and accomplish this within a brief amount of time.

Our New Doves

Our New Doves

Another study done by wildlife biologist John M. Marzluff at the University of Washington  revealed that birds can identify and remember faces.  Marzluff tested the reaction of crows to individuals who wore masks on campus.

Crows were trapped, banded and released by individuals wearing a designated “dangerous” mask.  For a number of weeks after the crows’ release, individuals wore “neutral” as well as “dangerous” masks around campus.   The subjects in “dangerous” masks were harassed and scolded more than those individuals who wore “neutral” masks.   From these results, Marzluff concluded that the crows recognized faces separately from that of clothing, gait and other individual characteristics.

So the next time you pass a wild bird, consider offering a polite nod and smile as you walk by – you may be making a new a feathered friend rather than a foe.

“by Bill Askenburg, Owner – New England Birdhouse. We specialize in fine architectural bird houses and feeders, offering handcrafted custom and stock replica bird houses and backyard birding supplies and garden decor.  For more information or articles please visit our blog.”

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  1. Top 5 Tips For a Bird-Friendly Backyard | New England Birdhouse says:

    [...] Recent studies show that birds can recognize and remember people who have threatened them in the past.  Keep your distance from an active nest and it’s likely that the birds will remain in the area, returning to your backyard to nest again. [...]

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