Myth of the Day

A long and pleasant autumn walk yesterday brought up the myth about the baby birds. You know the one I mean – “Don’t pick up the little bird because then its mother will abandon it!”

Now I had heard this story my whole life and had not actually questioned it until now. Such is the power of the myth. But it occurred to me yesterday that this is an astoundingly stupid survival strategy.

Would this behaviour give any evolutionary advantage at all to a bird? I can’t think of one. And most things that do not bestow an evolutionary advantage will not be around any more. That’s why you don’t see birds hopping, swimming or driving Segways – they probably tried, at one stage, but it didn’t work and they were dispatched in a hurry by predators.

So a quick web search showed this to be the case. See here and here, and, oh, loads of other places. Birds do NOT abandon their young if a human picks them up. However, if you disturb the nest too much when returning the baby then the mother might abandon the whole nest. And the baby bird will probably just jump out again anyway, because they are dumb little beasties.

So my motto for life continues intact – don’t believe a damned anything just because a lot of people tell you that it’s true. Find evidence, find experts, and then sort through the evidence and base your opinion on reason and fact.

Simple, effective, and practically guaranteed to close down a whole lot of churches.

/ paddy

27 thoughts on “Myth of the Day

  1. Thank you Paddy for bursting yet another myth. We had a baby seagull that we moved off our back porch this summer – and we had to put up with the neighbours’ accusations that the parents would just abandon it. Not the case – they did their best, but a cat got it first. Tragic.

    By the way, I have started my drive to empty my pockets of money. The Blog Action Day is on Wednesday, but I have already started posting and will be donating money for every comment on my posts this week to fight poverty. So, please send your readers over to me – all in a good cause!

  2. If at all possible you should always return a very young bird to its nest. But sometimes you just can’t and that is what happened to my husband and me a few years ago. A baby male sparrow fell from it’s nest under the eves of our house with a mighty bang onto the ground below. It should have killed it but he was a tough little thing and survived.
    We named him Linköping because my husband thought that köping sounded rather like chirping.:)

    Linköping became very dear to us as we spent weeks feeding and taking care of him. However, soon enough we had to let him try his wings, a worrying time for any parent. Linköping did very well but we always brought him back into the house afterwards. One day when we took him outside he flew a bit further and llanded high up in a tree outside our garden where we couldn’t reach him, and no matter how much we called , he would not come. He was obviously scared and didn’t know how to get back into the garden. In the end we had to leave him where he was as darkness fell and it began to rain hard. Later a storm blew up and I had a terrible night worrying about him stuck in his tree.

    The next morning we went outside early and began calling him. Suddenly, out of the tree came a wet scruffy looking little thing frantically trying to reach us but crash landing instead into some brambles below the high garden wall. Hanging nearly upside down off the wall I just managed to reach him and bring myself and him up into the garden. Oh the relief!

    Later when he was living outside all the time he would come back to us to be fed several times a day for weeks.
    Then winter came and we didn’t see him which made us think that he had probably perished. But, the following summer Linköping returned and he wasn’t alone. He brought with him his own babies to show us. We felt very privileged and it was amazing to watch him feed his little family the food he’d taken from our hands.

    That was the last we saw of Linköping, but we will never forget him.

  3. ladyFi: Yes, yes, I will pimp your blog on Wednesday!

    Lillan: That’s a great story! I’m glad the bird made it.

    H: What? I never said such a thing. It’s obviously a myth. The only thing on Earth that can be seen from the moon is Carola. Everybody knows that.

  4. This is a typical factoid- a spurious — unverified, incorrect, or fabricated — statement formed and asserted as a fact, but with no veracity. On exemple is

    1) the Bermuda Triangle (many people claim that more accidents there than anywhere else on the sea)

    2) Dogs and cats are often thought to be completely colour-blind and see the world in scales of grey. That is wrong. They do have colour vision, dichromate, but not nearly as good as that of humans, trichromate i.e. red, green and blue light.

    3) is often thought that chameleons change colour to match their surroundings as camouflage. They are mostly well camouflaged and they can change colour, but they do not change colour to match their surroundings. The colour changes as its physical status changes and as a form of communication. Octopuses seem to change colour as a form of camouflage (but also as a way of communicating.

    4) Radical feminists did not burn their bras in the 60s and 70s.

    5) Bumblebee myths- According to 20th century folklore, the laws of aerodynamics prove that the bumblebee should be incapable of flight, as it does not have the capacity (in terms of wing size or beat per second) to achieve flight with the degree of wing loading necessary. Not being aware of scientists ‘proving’ it cannot fly, the bumblebee succeeds under.

    There you go Paddy!

  5. H: Been at the wikipedia again, my dear..?

    1) Bollox

    2) Didn’t know that.

    3) Or that either.

    4) Really? That’s a pity…

    5) Hah, I knew this one! It is obviously bollox, because if something disproves the laws of aerodynamics, then they are obviously wrong. That’s science at work right there!

    Also coca-cola does NOT disslove teeth (I tried it once with the kid) and water does NOT drain in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere.

  6. Bumblebees: Those who do not know the scientific process are doomed to repeat it?

    The version I’ve read about the bumblebee is that when the scientists were investigating the bumblebee they started out with a very simple approximation. That approximation was very rough and ready and indicated that the bumblebee, as an approximation, would not fly. So the scientists refined their approximations, and eventually found that with better approximations the bumblebee did indeed fly.

    So the bumblebee myth is in fact only a misquoted part of the scientific process.

    By the way: Lin Chirping – wonderful story indeed!

    “Simple, effective, and practically guaranteed to close down a whole lot of churches.”

    If you find an abandoned church and pet it, it’s shepherd will not take it back again? Hmm…


  7. And the butterfly CAN fly on even if it’s had a little of it’s butterflydust brushed off it’s wings (another childhood myth that it can’t and that you should therefore never pick it up.

    It IS however true, that your nose will grow larger every time you pick it!

  8. Rolf: No, petting a church is never a good plan.

    H: That works, apparently, although I have not tried it. My source? Wikipedia. Of course.

    Christina: I didn’t know the one about the butterfly. But how can taking parts of your nose away make it bigger..?

  9. One of my fave myths – apart from “Don’t Go Swimming Sooner Than Two Hours After A Meal Or You’ll Get Cramp” – is the notion that a cat, having climbed a tree and remaining up there looking bewildered, will need to be rescued since it doesn’t know how to climb down again. People actually bother the fire brigade with things like that (or is this a myth as well???). Truth is, sooner or later the moggy will get down on its own. Or explain why trees worldwide aren’t riddled with old kitty corpses in varying stages of decay? You’d think that at least some of them would happen to climb trees out in the woods or some desolate place where there’s no fire brigade…

  10. Stefan K: The cramp one is pretty much debunked, but the cat story is one I hadn’t thought of. You know why the cats do it? Because they like to watch us running about and then have a laugh about it. Bastards.

  11. “4) Radical feminists did not burn their bras in the 60s and 70s.”

    Wait a minute, wait a minute. How can you prove that?? All it takes is one radical feminist somewhere in the world to burn a bra in the 60s or 70s for that statement to be false. There must have been at least one radical feminist in the world who dabbled in arson as a hobby. Come on! I shan’t believe it!

  12. Okay, okay, fine. Maybe it’s a modern thing. (Good for you, Tyra Banks!) But in all drunken seriousness, considering all those crazy chicks wigging out at Woodstock in the summer of ’69, I will bet you ANYTHING that at least one of them got clumsy and dropped a lit toke right in their open cleavage, leading quite innocently to a bra on fire. You know how it is. One thing leads to another and before you know it, a drug-related misstep becomes a world-wide fashion trend. And voilà! The rest is history.

  13. Burning bras was not a phenomena of the 60s but the 70s when girls stopped using make-up and so on. i bet some must have done it but not bone-fires in every big city as the legend claims. But many women wore no bra in the 70s, and got saggy tits. But it was more due to that everything has to be so fucking natural, not a feministic demonstrative action. Men didnt shave and so so too.

  14. Glen: All right, I admit that a few bras may have been burned while under the influence. Happy now?

    H: A bra bonfire is something I would have liked to see. And I didn’t shave in the 70s either.

  15. H: “i bet some must have done it but not bone-fires in every big city as the legend claims.”

    H said “bone-fire”, hehe. You know, I suppose it is a bone-fire for some of you of that persuasion. For me, however a bona fide “bone-fire” would involve a burning house and a gaggle of muscular Chippendale’s dancers in revealing fireman uniforms trying to put it out.

    But perhaps I’ve said too much.

  16. Two remarks: I had always assumed that the evolutionary background for the bird thing was if the birds were using scents to identify that the offspring was theirs then any other scent might overpower it. So that’s a least a hypothesis that explains why this would occur. So I guess that’s now a hypothesis to explain something that doesn’t happen…

    Also, in regard to bra-burning. It wasn’t done historically but some people certainly did it in reaction to stories. I have a friend in highschool who did in fact burn one of her bras to make some sort of symbolic protest and that was in 1999 or 2000. So the myth has become a reality in isolated cases.

  17. My favorite myth is that we use only 10% of our brain power. Oh really? Do you use only one of your ten fingers?

    Evolution is far too parsimonious to evolve a brain ten times more powerful than we need.

  18. Anyway back to birds.
    Peope do get confused, as Tawny Owl chicks are known to get fed on the ground, and the defensive mothers are capable of hurting you. I’d still recommend thinking about getting the owlet onto a branch away from foxes, and badgers.

    Barn Owls, on the other hand, are left unfed if they fall from the natal site and must get back to get fed. There’s no worry about smell there. The nesting site often stinks. (Lots of droppings, dead prey remains, etc.) The Hawk and Owl Trust always inform people about this… but I still get at least one BO chick delivered to me each year.

    Thanks for helping to explode the myth.

  19. Chuck Roast: Yeah, that one’s always a laugh. I use my spare 90% to think about television.

    natureheads: Thanks, although I probably just got lucky.

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