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Birds who can’t sing
March 23, 2015
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by Ivan Raconteur

I had a conversation with the astute associate editor recently that made me think about something that hadn’t occurred to me before.

That happens frequently.

Our conversations tend to be carried out on a lofty cerebral plane. Her perspicacious mind and quick wit often lead me to challenge previous assumptions, which can be extremely enlightening.

On this particular occasion, our colloquy touched on the subject of singing ability, or lack thereof.

Let’s face it. Some people couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. We accept this, and we don’t condemn them for their shortcoming, except possibly in cases in which the subjects don’t realize they can’t sing, and inflict their caterwauling on innocent victims.

Generally, though, we realize everyone has strengths and weaknesses. We are each good at something, but no one is good at everything.

I began to wonder, after my recent conference with the associate editor, if the same is true in the animal kingdom.

For example, it is likely not a terrible hardship if a person can’t sing. That person can simply avoid situations (at least in public) that might require them to sing. But what would it be like if one were a bird who couldn’t sing?

Conventional wisdom says all birds can sing, but can they?

We humans might not notice immediately if a bird was singing off key, but I bet other birds would notice. How embarrassing would that be for the tuneless offender?

What, to expand on this line of thinking, would it be like to be a fish who was a poor swimmer?

We might assume all fish are excellent swimmers, but do we have any proof of this?

We have heard the expression, “as graceful as a swan,” but what if one were a swan who happened to be clumsy?

Bees are supposed to be busy, but is it possible there are loafers among the apian community, just as there are among humans?

Would it be awkward to be a cheetah who wasn’t a good runner, or a kangaroo who couldn’t jump?

It would certainly be inconvenient to be a grizzly bear who couldn’t fish, or a shark who didn’t enjoy seafood.

Owls are considered wise, but what if one were the dim bulb among one’s strigine companions?

It is obvious to us that humans have different competencies, so why do we assume all members of an animal group are equally gifted?

Some people think elephants never forget, but isn’t it possible there are absent-minded elephants wandering around out there on the African veldt, too?

The more I think about it, the more I suspect that stereotypes about animals may be just as unfair and inaccurate as those about people.

Next time I’m hiking in the woods, I’m going to listen to those birds much more closely so find out if any of them are out of tune.


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