Much of what passes for wisdom about wildlife is absolute nonsense.
The appearance on the lawn of the first robin is often said to announce the onset of an early spring. Some years, however, the bird’s arrival is apt to be followed by an untimely April snow.
There’s a nursery rhyme for children that says “A wise old owl sat in an oak …” But how can great intelligence be attributed to a bird whose entire vocabulary amounts to a single question: Who? Who? Who?
Compared to an owl, a crow is an accomplished orator.
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A friend and I were camped once on a Siberian mountainside when a cuckoo began calling somewhere nearby. It was important, my friend said, to count the calls because the number of repetitions told how many more years a listener could expect to live.
It wasn’t meant as a joke. He believed it.
What started me thinking about this is the reputation of squirrels as creatures of foresight, capable providers. I don’t know who authored that fiction. But it certainly doesn’t describe the squirrels I see frolicking outside my window.
They’re gifted athletes. I’ll give them that. They leap from limb to limb like circus daredevils or Olympic gymnasts.
We have two flowering crab apple trees in our front yard that afford us much pleasure. Both are filled with bloom in April and May. The flowers of one are white; the other’s a lovely pink.
The fruits they bear are plentiful but small — the size, roughly, of a child’s marble. Green at first, they ripen in September and early October to an attractive yellow. Every twig is filled with them. Their numbers cause the smaller limbs to bend.
Then, with the turn toward autumn, the apples begin to fall.
The ones that land in the grass of the lawn are no problem. But the ones that litter the brick walkway are a different matter. The outer part turns to mush. The hard little inner core rolls underfoot. Each step is an adventure.
And what about those allegedly provident squirrels? You’d think they’d be busy collecting all the fallen crab apples and storing them away in some secret cache as insurance against the bitter months to come.
But no. The hazards on the walk are our responsibility. The squirrels — feckless little beasts — can’t be bothered. They’d rather spend time showing off their talent for climbing and leaping, depending for their winter nourishment on our filling the bird feeders, from which they shamelessly poach.
I suppose that qualifies as intelligence of a sort.
For more of C.W. Gusewelle, go to gusewelle.kansascity.com.