Jan 25 2009
Have you ever tried to read birds’ body language? It’s easier than you think.
Birds use song and call notes to communicate but, just like humans, body language is part of their repertoire.
Calm or submissive birds keep their feathers sleek, their wings and tails closed, and their head feathers down like the cardinal above.
Agitated birds show different levels of aggression with their posture. At a low level the bird puts his body in a horizontal position and raises his crest or head feathers like the northern cardinal shown below.
To really make his point the bird gapes his beak with his head thrust forward. This house sparrow says, “Back off!”
To look more threatening a bird opens his wings and puffs up to appear larger. Dorothy, the female peregrine falcon at Pitt 2001-2015, shows a great example of this while defending her nest on Banding Day in 2004.
Some body language is not as easy to figure out. Why do northern mockingbirds quickly open and close their wings in a raised V? Ornithologists have several theories on this wing-flashing gesture but no one knows for sure. Perhaps it’s meant to startle insects or attract attention. If a person flicks out his arms like a mockingbird he will certainly attract attention!
Wouldn’t it be amazing if people showed their emotions the way birds do? Imagine a business meeting in which an aggressive person gapes his mouth(beak) to make his point and all around the table people slowly raise their crests.
It would add a whole new dimension to our body language.
(Northern cardinal and house sparrow photos by Chuck Tague. Peregrine falcon (Dorothy) photo by Jack Rowley)