Story: Animal Play Behavior
Santa Ynez Mud Swallows
By Jeff Marsch (05/12/09 15:08:12)
Related animal: Swallow

Sitting in the Santa Ynez river for two minutes brought a flock of over one hundred cliff nesting birds to my attention. I found two things about the birds to be immediately interesting: first, their feeding cycles and relationship with their roost, and second the way in which they moved cooperatively though air in roughly the same way as small fish do in water. The birds we saw (which I believe were mud swallows) had made a roost near the base of a cliff in a shady part of the river in the form of dozens of hemispherical mud shells, which were affixed directly to the cliff-face with openings at the tops. Every five minutes or so the birds would leave their nests in unison to swarm out over the river in what appeared to be an insect hunt, only to return after brief stint of hunting. This process seemed to repeat endlessly throughout the time we were there, with the birds spending roughly the same time in flight as in rest beneath the cliff, which gave me the notion that the birds were sort of living a cyclical life at dozens of times the rate of our own based on instinctual clockwork. This was the first evidence of an invisible boundary resulting from biological capacity; the second was what seemed to dictate the movement of the pack when in flight on the hunt. I found the way in which the shape of the collection of individual birds moved in unison to be very interesting aesthetically; they all appeared to be bound by an invisible elasticity that mirrored that of pliable rubber. This appeared to be the result of near instantaneous reflex and perfect motion control within the medium of air. Through this it seems that it is possible for there to exist instantaneous communication among a group of individuals based on shared instinct. Could humans be trained/evolved to depend solely on reflex? Or are we as a species defined by our cognitive intellect?

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