Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

personalities in birds…what do you see?

When I first started going to sanctuaries, the chickens were a mystery to me. I was somewhat wary of them – their movements were very unpredictable, and I was always worried that I was going to step on one. Actually, to some degree I do still worry about that.

I’d try to take pictures of them as much because I felt like I couldn’t neglect them when I was taking pictures of everything else (including buckets, mice ladders, and poop!), and so I’d try. I had tons of pics with blurry heads, and I felt like I mostly would get odd angles that would make them look sort of strange.

Being a shutterbug, I kept trying, and I also got to know the chickens more. I held chickens and learned to pick up the ones that like the attention. Babies came and I watched them grow up. I listened to people talk about them and to them who knew chickens.

And through a combination of the two – continuing to take pictures of them, and learning more about them – I found that my pictures of them improved. At least half the pictures I take of them are captured when they are holding their heads still. I don’t have to put effort into predicting their movements (as much as anyone’s movements can ever be predicted, anyway). And I really see their personality, and I think I’m able to capture it to some degree.

What I don’t know is whether others can see what I think I see. Birds, and their expressions, are so different from our own faces, so different from the faces of the cats and dogs we tend to grow up with, that I wonder if their personalities remain hidden to us until we start to learn their language.

Has anyone else had this experience, slowly learning what chickens (or other birds) are all about?

chickens at ps

10 responses to “personalities in birds…what do you see?

  1. Jeff @ Coolwater4animals April 25, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    I wish everyone subscribed to the notion you so compassionately describe, that indeed ALL animals had personalities worthy of being understood and lives worth living unfettered.

  2. Gary April 26, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Excellent and heartfelt post. I love Jeff’s comment, too.

    I’ve been trying to the same thing – and it’s wonderfully fulfilling – though I’ve had less exposure to chickens than you. One thing I’ve done a few times is get down to their level: Most are on the ground, and I’ll just lie down on the ground so I can see them from a better angle (and perhaps they can see me from a better angle).

    One thing I’ve noticed a lot in the last few years, since learning about and advocating for chickens and farmed birds, is the behaviors of the birds in my yard. Before my involvement with chicken advocacy, I wonder if I would have noticed the doves sunbathing in a sunny spot in the back yard, the sparrows dustbathing in depressions in the gravel driveway, and the various explorations and interplays between birds on the ground. I really feel like I’m much more a part of the world now, and it’s wonderful to watch these diverse and – as you say, not quite predictable – individuals going about their business, and sometimes apparently just having fun (e.g., splashing around big-time in the birdbath).

  3. Gary April 26, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Forgot to add — Inspired by this post, I’d like to increase my efforts to get to know chickens’ (and turkeys, etc.) personalities better. To echo what you pointed out, compared to mammals, perhaps, and companion animal species with which we have greater familiarity, understanding birds’ movements and expressions may require a greater learning curve for most of us.

  4. Mary Martin April 26, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    I had that experience with the Muscovy ducks who lived by the lake my townhouse was on. It probably took me a year to get to know all of them, and of course I named them. And they all look and act very different, yet people would say that the ducks all looked the same to them. Meanwhile, the few who did look similar were so different in their mannerisms and personalities that it amazed me that the new people–just like me a year prior–didn’t see their personalities immediately.

    Then again, human children all look the same to me, but when I attend to them and make an effort to discover who they are, I find each one to be quite unique, just like the Muscovies.

  5. Deb April 26, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    Jeff, I suppose I’m to the point that it is hard to imagine people believing that only their “pets” and humans have personality, but that is, of course, the more common view of the world. What is the trigger that gets people to really see?

    Gary, I suspect that a part of the learning curve we have has to do with the fact that birds tend to be much more interested in each other than in us. I see similar things with sheep, in how people react to them. Adam, Clover, and Hickory are the only ones that people see as having “personality”.

    Mary, that is so true about human children! Actually, i have a really hard time recognizing humans in general, other than by their voices, movements, etc…I’m pretty bad when it comes to faces, so maybe that is where I’m better of…I’m automatically looking at movement and personality to give me the cues that my brain doesn’t process just from faces alone!

  6. Kay Evans April 29, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Wonderful post, Deb! A friend mentioned to me that he thinks the reason people don’t see the personality in birds and reptiles is because their facial muscles don’t move as much or make as many obvious (to humans) expressions as the animals that we’re more familiar with (as you pointed out too).

    When the three young turkeys arrived at the beginning of the year, I admit that I could not tell two of them apart for a few days. Those two still look almost identical but I know from their expressions who is who, but I doubt I could point it out to anyone else. Thank you again for this post!

  7. Deb April 29, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    Hey Kay! That’s so true about the recognizable facial expressions. I still find it difficult, and rely mostly on other cues, though many of those are still a mystery to me as well! I can tell that their verbal language is a rich one, but I mostly only know what they’re saying based on how the other birds react!

    A new turkey arrived at PS recently, and the other turkeys were so thrilled. Terry said that even before they’d brought her in, when the other turkeys knew she was there, they started talking to her non-stop. I thought that was so cool!

  8. Nella May 16, 2008 at 7:51 am

    Definitely. I’ve never got to know chickens that well, but i certainly start being able to tell ducks apart who are physically nearly identical on the basis of how they behave and the relationships they have with one another.

  9. Nella May 16, 2008 at 7:52 am

    Really did not mean to reply with a nonfunctioning blog address, so the actual one is linked from this comment.

  10. Deb May 18, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Nella, that’s cool that you’ve been able to tell the ducks apart. I grew up on a lake, and while there were always ducks around, they were always on the move, and so I never felt like I got to know any one in particular. But now, at Poplar Spring, I’ve had more of a chance to get to know some ducks, but more some of the geese. It is a wildlife rescue as well as a farmed animal rescue, and so a certain amount of the ducks and geese are there year round. It helps, for sure!

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