|Pine Grosbeaks on road.|
|Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls|
The more scientists reveal about bird intelligence and individual variation, the more strenuously people seem to grab onto that popular meme that individual animals don’t matter—only populations. I’ve always found that a depressing concept, because it’s so egotistical. In terms of wildlife management and conservation, of course the focus must be on populations, but within these two disciplines, our sense of the appropriate size of populations is informed not by what is best for the larger world but by what will serve a given human “user group.” Red-winged Blackbirds are slaughtered by the millions in western Minnesota and the Dakotas every spring to appease sunflower growers. Cormorants are slaughtered in many areas to appease sport and commercial fishing interests. Meanwhile, white-tailed deer and Canada Goose numbers have been “managed” to bring them to unsustainable levels over decades, to please hunting interests, even after it was obvious that their numbers were growing too large for the health of major habitats and competing species. Now we’re watching that exact same ecological disaster slowly unfold with Wild Turkeys. Meanwhile, I hear the same delight in shortsighted people seeing turkeys in their area for the first time that I heard back in the 70s when people were so thrilled to see Canada Geese raising young in places they’d never before bred.
We are supposed to be the smartest species on the planet. We could use our intelligence to look at the Big Picture of population levels even as we see the Little Picture—the value of individuals of all species. We could learn from our mistakes. We could use our supposedly superior awareness to notice the beauty all around us. And we could use our supposedly superior ability to plan ahead so we’d leave early enough to drive a little slower during times when birds gather on our roadsides. Forest Gump famously said “stupid is as stupid does.” The same also could be said of human intelligence.