Garrett (garote) wrote,

The Sierra City Bird

On our recent trip to Sierra City, Erika came into contact with a bird - a juvenlie robin, we think - that had been domesticated and then abandoned.

The bird had originally been found by a family living in Auburn, after it had fallen from a nest built near their home. They took the bird in and fed it, but after a while they didn't know what to do with it, so they took it on vacation in their RV, and when they left Sierra City they left the bird behind, to fend for itself in the woods around the RV park.

Perhaps the family felt that the bird would sense its "freedom", and would immediately begin hopping around in search of insects and worms, and eventually build a nest and proceed with a normal birdie life. But instead it flew over to the nearest available humans, and chirped at them until it got something to eat.

It was very strange, reaching out and picking up a live bird of that kind. I've handled ducks and geese and chickens and the occasional cockatiel before, but this creature was so light ... almost insubstantial, like a piece of living origami. And so fast. If it wanted to avoid me or fight back, there was no way I could have reacted in time to control it(*).

The food it seemed to like the most was chicken, and Erika felt strange feeding it pieces of another bird, like she was encouraging an immoral cannibalistic behavior. In fact, the situation aggravated our sense of morality in a very pervasive way.

Here's a list of the contradictions contained in our behavior, and those of the family:
  1. We eat birds every day, yet here we are concerned about the welfare of one small half-domesticated bird that isn't even good eating.
  2. The bird would have died quickly if the family had not rescued it, yet we were irritated that the family would abandon it, probably to die, in the RV park.
  3. We knew the bird was simply parroting (pun intended) behaviors to get food, yet we were compelled to search for more complex social signals in every move or gesture it made, as though it were a child we could encourage to speak.
  4. We felt guilty feeding it flesh from its own class of animals, as though we were tricking it into an immoral act, even though it clearly did not care ... and was not capable of caring.
  5. We were upset that the "wildness" of the bird had been tainted in a way that indentured it to humans, even though by doing so, the family had prolonged its life.
After a while we ran out of food that it liked. We did not feel strongly enough to buy more food, let alone adopt it. The bird feeder hanging near the bathrooms at the RV park was full of seeds and constantly patronized by other birds, still "wild" despite the unnaturally occurring food source, and we hoped that the robin might discover that, but we had almost no confidence that it would spend enough time searching for typical food, and would perish when winter arrived and the RV park closed for the season.

It's a strange thing, being confronted with so many contradictions in our moral sense, all at once. Anthropologists and philosophers are quick to explain how these behaviors are perfectly sensible for a social animal bred for survival in an ambiguous world ... but still. We are so used to finding consistency in things, fighting for it even, and struggling to determine the one "correct" action in each situation. It is daunting to acknowledge that the struggle is endless. (Even though, on further thought, of course it is endless.)

What would you have done? Anything different? What was the most morally contradictory situation you've been in lately?

(*) I should have expected that from a creature that could catch flying insects while flying, but it was a surprise. Bats are even crazier - a single big-eared bat can catch 500 mosquitoes in one hour, using freaking sonar!!
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