Asleep at the Wing

The majority of birds are like humans: loud, attention-seeking, and territorial. But I’m here to talk about another quality we generally share: strict diurnal behavior.

This is especially true for the colorful ones–the popular parrots, toucans, and hummingbirds. While they may be up at the crack of dawn, raucously announcing the start of their day to any poor humans within earshot trying to maybe sleep in once in a while, as soon as the sun starts going down they return to their roosts and settle in for the night.

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If I sound cranky, it’s because I have been woken up far too many times by these things’ squawks. It also doesn’t help that my least favorite math teacher used to laugh like that.

Which leads to some awkward encounters during night walks. Usually once per night I will chance across a bird asleep on its perch, fluffed up and tucked into its own feathers. And when this happens, my usual borderline-perverse naturalistic obsession doesn’t kick in. Sometimes, in fact, I almost feel like I’m intruding.

It may have to do with mental association. Birds are what I expect to see during daylight hours, flying around and flashing bright colors. Making loud noises. With the exception of nocturnal owls or nightjars, stumbling across a bird during bird bedtime somehow feels wrong. Out of place.

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As if a motmot didn’t already look judgmental.

It also doesn’t help that birds–with their relatively rapid metabolism–can be heavy sleepers. Some, like hummingbirds, even to fully into torpor every night to save energy. It’s like they’re braindead. They hold perfectly still and barely breathe, and this jarring contrast in behavior gives the encounter a surreal feeling.

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Not to mention the urge to screw with them. Maybe just give him a little top hat and glasses? Write “Hello Human” on his face to confuse ornithologists?

Last night I tried to convince a group that we were right underneath a sleeping toucan. They weren’t impressed. Maybe seeing a toucan without it’s properly daylit coloration or distinct call didn’t count. Maybe they thought I was bullshitting and had hidden a stuffed prop in the tree beforehand. If so, I can’t really blame them.

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Hmph. 6 hours later, and they would’ve been impressed.

Either way, I try to take the encounters in stride, ID the animal like any other, and move on before the beams of many curious flashlights wake them up. After all, no reason to disturb another animal’s sleep. Only birds do that.

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