I was surprised to learn, during my recent trip to New Zealand, that the Kiwi is considered the World’s Stupidest Bird! Now if I were a Kiwi, I’d take umbrage at such a label…although I have to say, they are funny, extremely awkward looking birds and it is perhaps understandable that they’d be given such a moniker.
The presenter at the Kiwi conservation park we visited offered the following two stories by way of explaining how the Kiwi got its title as Stupid. The first involved the breeding pair the conservation area keeps in their attempt to restore the population of Kiwis in the country. Their ranks were decimated with the introduction of foreign species ( mainly rodents) from Britain years ago. The female of this pair had just laid a perfect egg. The conservationists were thrilled– as was the Dad. In his excitement to see it (and presumably congratulate his mate for her fine work), he ran so fast to get to it that he jumped on it and smashed it…therefore ensuring that he wasn’t going to be a Papa after all — at least this go around.
Never a shirker of his manly duties, this male Kiwi tried again…and the female laid yet another perfect egg. Again, he was excited and rushed over to see it. (I, for the life of me, can’t understand why the female didn’t ban him from the premises and make him wait outside in the ‘maternity waiting room’ as used to be the practice with humans. The impending dads used to gather there to pace and smoke bad cigars so they wouldn’t be forced to watch, not the miracle, but the horror of birth.) But there Wannabe Papa Kiwi was , again running enthusiastically, full tilt towards the egg. He tripped over his feet, landed with his beak sticking in the ground, broke the beak, and was undergoing emergency beak surgery the day we were there. Needless to say, on his way down, he took out the second egg! It reminds me of the hapless dads often portrayed on television commercials. They are so excited, panicked, nervous, to get to the hospital, that they put the car in drive instead of reverse and slam into the garage, taking down all the ladders, paint cans, and garden tools stored on the end wall. Or they back the car out of the garage and roar away in a cloud of exhaust — having forgotten the mom-to-be who is standing in the front door with her hospital bag. I get it…everyone’s excited. But really, Mr. Kiwi, get a grip!
Our family has kept pet birds for years. Many of them have been of the parrot family — conures, cockatiels, parrotlets, Bourke’s Parakeets…and we have had occasion to babysit for large green parrots. Gill had a job looking after many baby macaws and other large parrots when she was a teenager. So we tend to think, by and large, that birds are smart. They certainly each have their own individual personalities, even the tiny finches and canaries. Our general consensus is that birds, although having tiny bird brains, are smart. ..in some cases, as smart as human. (The previous example of anxious dads notwithstanding.) Certainly the large parrots and, according to research, crows are.There has been extensive research done on the intelligence of crows: how they remember faces of people and react to them, how they can solve puzzles and use tools to their advantage.( I know many husbands who can’t use tools if their lives depend on it –and according to their wives, they may! So I give credit to the crows where credit is due.)
And I recall, when L’il Sis was looking after Gill’s former parakeet Newton, he and L’il Sis’s parrotlet named Pete held what looked a lot like’conferences’ or ‘plotting sessions’ in the corner of the room…after which they would calmly walk over to the sleeping, aged beagle Wilbur, jump on his head and demand a ride. He was more than happy to oblige. So that proves, if nothing else (for instance, that people who keep a multitude of pets –oops, guilty!– deserve what they get!) that birds are capable of deep thought, decisive action, and more than a touch of naughtiness, inventiveness, ability to take advantage of a situation, and plain, outright cunning!
Stupid birdbrains nothing! And so, I believe perhaps we owe the poor Kiwi an apology. Just because he’s an inept parent doesn’t make him stupid. We all have our bad parenting moments!