Sunday, 22 February 2009

Chess Photography - Bird Brains Play Chess

Bird Brains Play Chess (Flickr photo by striatic)

Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) are nomadic birds found in Australia. Male specimens of budgerigars are one of the top 5 talking birds amongst parrot species. The world record for the largest vocabulary of any bird is held by a budgerigar named Puck - with a vocabulary of 1,728 words. Puck died in 1994 (see Wikipedia).

Erwin, the Talking Budgie Speaks Up! Aussie Budgerigar

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Animal Cognition - Geese, Animal Rights & Factory Farms

Family of Geese - Flickr Photo by Bob Reck

I have been deliberating recently about animal cognition, animal rights and factory farming. During my browsing I came across this moving 2008 New York Times article, A Farm Boy Reflects, by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas D. Kristof. In the article Kristof reflects on his childhood Oregon farm boy interactions with the family farm's chinese white geese:

Then there were the geese, the most admirable creatures I’ve ever met. We raised Chinese white geese, a common breed, and they have distinctive personalities. They mate for life and adhere to family values that would shame most of those who dine on them.

While one of our geese was sitting on her eggs, her gander would go out foraging for food — and if he found some delicacy, he would rush back to give it to his mate. Sometimes I would offer males a dish of corn to fatten them up — but it was impossible, for they would take it all home to their true loves.

Once a month or so, we would slaughter the geese. When I was 10 years old, my job was to lock the geese in the barn and then rush and grab one. Then I would take it out and hold it by its wings on the chopping block while my Dad or someone else swung the ax.

The 150 geese knew that something dreadful was happening and would cower in a far corner of the barn, and run away in terror as I approached. Then I would grab one and carry it away as it screeched and struggled in my arms.

Very often, one goose would bravely step away from the panicked flock and walk tremulously toward me. It would be the mate of the one I had caught, male or female, and it would step right up to me, protesting pitifully. It would be frightened out of its wits, but still determined to stand with and comfort its lover.

We eventually grew so impressed with our geese — they had virtually become family friends — that we gave the remaining ones to a local park. (Unfortunately, some entrepreneurial thief took advantage of their friendliness by kidnapping them all — just before the next Thanksgiving.)
I am now even more thoughtful about the meat that I eat. Hopefully intensive factory farming will soon become despatched to history.