Human images in the animal kingdom

During my growing-up years in the country, I developed an appreciation for the wild animals and birds that paid regular visits to our prairie home. Even as a child, I observed how much some of them display human traits. Now, living in town, I still watch for evidence among wild creatures that somehow we all belong to the same large family.

Back during the last snow that had caught the newly-arrived robins off guard, I spotted one standing in the snow at the roadside. He had fluffed his feathers and pulled his head down between his shoulders. If a robin can look ticked off, this one deserved an Oscar for his performance. Notice, I said, "his." Male robins return about two weeks ahead of their mates in order to reclaim the old nest or begin a new one. When their wives arrive, they will have everything under way. I don’t pretend to read birds’ minds, but I’d bet I came close this time. I’m sure he thought, "Nag, nag, nag, that’s what she did until I came up here. Wouldn’t let me wait another week. No, she wouldn’t and look at me now. I’m hungry, can’t find any worms, I’m freezing my tail off, and in this weather I can’t start building the nest." 

It just shows you that those model husbands, male robins, have bad moments too, at times acting more human than some humans. About two weeks back I crossed the road to see how many members of the muskrat family had survived the winter. I saw no muskrats, but discovered that another family had made the pond home: two Canada geese and six goslings.  Among birds, geese could teach many human parents a thing or two. As I approached, the parents began to herd the little ones down the grass slope toward the water. When I moved closer, Dad Goose placed himself between me and his offspring. He vibrated his wings, bobbed his head and stepped toward me. I didn’t need to guess at his thoughts; I read his body language just as clearly as if he had spoken English. I’ll paraphrase it this way: "If you come near my kids I’ll rip out all your feathers and break both your wings."

When I stepped back, he interpreted my action as yielding to his superior ability. Mr. Goose turned back to his wife and kids and made no further attempt to conduct them to the water. Dad Goose. What a thrill to meet such a dedicated father.

If wild creatures display human likeness, then surely domesticated ones do it even more so, but with a tendency to copy our bad habits. A farm lady exhibited compassion to three stray kittens, allowing them to stay in the barn but insisting they must hunt mice to live. When one became pregnant she invited it into the house for one good meal each day, not feeding it in front of the other cats. Nevertheless, the news leaked out. Within a few days the other two gave up mousing, positioned themselves at the kitchen door, and howled for food. They became welfare cats.

Some people will argue that evolution accounts for the similarity between animals and people. I’d rather believe we all came from the same designer.


Ray Wiseman