Thursday, July 19, 2012

Avian Acumen

“Acumen” is a term most often associated with human traits. Expertise, intuition, accuracy, perception, and judgment are traits associated with acumen, such as the oft used expression “business acumen.” After making a study of this term, I tentatively acclaim acumen as a qualifier for traits of the animal world. For instance, our neighborhood is filled with animals of all descriptions from mammals to birds to the world of insects. After many years of ongoing surveillance of various animals in our immediate locality, I have mentally catalogued enough information on my personal favorites to amuse visiting friends with descriptions of entertaining animal antics.

One creature high on my list of personal favorites is a bird of barely one-half ounce, the indigo bunting. This tiny, finch-like bird has become a personal favorite, not because of the species characteristics described in detail in many manuals, but because the indigo male residing in our neighborhood has returned to our front yard tree for three years running. This bundle of enjoyment for our family has returned to serenade us with its claims of territorial supremacy. The chance that another indigo bunting male would claim and reclaim its tiny perch is vanishingly small.

Before my readers think this post has become a secular manual on bird behavior we claim scripture insights from the Old Testament Book of Job. The inspired author has given many examples of God’s creative work from the world of animal behavior. Job 12:7 could double as a heading for several insightful passages on animal behavior later in the Book of Job. The Creator has equipped the millions of earth species, particularly the soulish creatures defined as “includ(ing) creatures in which God endowed mind, will, and emotions so that they can form relationships with members of their own species as well as with human beings.” Soulish creatures include birds such as crows and species such as our family’s indigo bunting: “But ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you” (Job 12:7).

Even though soulish creatures are highly remarkable and in spite of counsel that we should “ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you,” Job 35:10 asserts there is a much higher claim for the intellectual capability of human beings created in the image of God: “But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches more to us than to the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the air?” The two passages from the Book of Job do not contradict in any way. Soulish animals are created with some abilities even humans may not duplicate but they are not created in the image of God. Only humanity has received that honor.

The indigo bunting has the more fascinating navigation system of any of our local birds. By October it sets sail for southern seas using the North Star, also known as the Pole Star. This star is stationary in the sky with all the other stars apparently revolving around it once every 24 hours. Apparently the young birds learn in the indigo nursery before they are fledged to recognize a stationary star. Polaris fills this requirement in our Northern Hemisphere. Without having any stars to view on a cloudy night, its navigation system is compromised. Our family’s indigo bunting successfully used the cloudless sky system to return to his “needle in a haystack” location in Northern Illinois.

We observed our male indigo bathing this spring in our bird bath fountain, followed by either his female or one of his young fledglings. Either way, the energetic, purity of the song of her husband or father was audible all spring and well into the summer. For three years I have memorized his four phrases of paired notes. Our neighborhood songster’s exuberant territory identifier has not varied. From neighborhood to neighborhood, most bunting song vocabulary varies slightly in character. Our bird song recordings are somewhat different from the indigo bunting we have claimed as “our own.”

Our tiny avian marvel dried himself off in an ornamental apple tree right next to his bathing venue. The sun was not shining while he dried himself. Therefore, we were able to see his apparent change to a darker color because the indigo displays its plumage color by refracted light and not by the ordinary colors provided by the reflection of pigments. This effect is most visible in more subdued light. Our male indigo bunting did not appear like “a scrap of sky with wings” as he usually does in bright sunlight.

The study of birds and their God-created soulishness is an occasion for worship. We need to be reminded that each avian species is distinctive and beautiful. Of the worldwide 10,000 bird species almost 20% are migratory. None of the migratory species has a more fascinating story of acumen--the expertise, intuition, accuracy, and perception which has helped our joy-giving annual visitor find its way home to the middle temperate zone with the coming of spring. Each of the millions of species has its own set of tales to tell of God-endowed acumen at different levels of creation.