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Staring contest

I came face to face with a red-tailed hawk yesterday, that had just killed one of my chickens and had inadvertantly snagged itself in the net fence surrounding the coop. A magnificent bird, it gave me the most piercing stare as I struggled to free it from its entanglement, *carefully* avoiding its rapier-like talons and snapping, razor sharp beak. That purposeful and unflinching pair of eyes momentarily connected me with a much older and deeper level of cognition, that of “bird mind”. Birds of course are what the dinosaurs evolved into, and yet they are capable of astonishing feets of cognition, governed by a neural chassis utterly alien to our own.
James Blish imagined what a world would be like if bird cognition evolved into a planet’s dominant culture, in his (1972) Midsummer Century:

The next day they saw three more of the sparrow-like birds, and the next day, five. And the morning after that, they emerged from their sleeping burrow to find a smoke-black thing like an enormous crow looking down upon them, just out of club’s reach, its head bent, its neck extended until it seemed almost snakelike; its eyes glassy and unblinking. . . . For very disparate reasons, neither of the two minds was surprised when the bird’s beak parted, its throat ruffled and pulsed, and it said in a voice like fingernails on a blackboard:

Upon being released, the red-tailed hawk flapped lazily up to the nearest tree and continued to stare down hungrily at the panic-stricken flock of silkies, not having been distracted in the least from its original mission. Oh to have even a *fraction* of the focus of a red-tailed hawk. Of course they don’t get distracted by blogging . . .
The fat little chicken that the hawk was after, was indeed an attractive target. Bred and morphed by our species for millenia, chickens are the ultimate symbiots, originally sharing the tropical forest edge habitats we lived in, when they were first domesticated over 8,000 years ago, in southeast Asia. Ever since, chickens have provided us with eggs, meat, fertilizer, wake up service and garbage disposal, in return for our protection and a few handfuls of grain. This arrangement has proven to be pretty good for humans, although not always for individual chickens, especially if they wind up in cock-fights or factory farms. Still, properly looked after, chickens are supremely useful, portable and fun and keeping them makes you feel, well *self-sufficient* You don’t have to kill them to benefit because they lay EGGS. Chickens are a particularly useful creature in urban contexts, literally providing the *means of production* to turn garbage into protein, though keeping them is frowned upon by many municipalities.
When I was living in New York’s Lower East Side, I was elated to come across some fellow hardcore poultry zealots, in the form of these Puerto Rican men, with whom I could talk a little chicken. I loved hearing the crowing of roosters over the din of the Manhattan traffic, knowing that the chicken men were in their own small way, committing an act of revolution.

Loisida Chicken men

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