Animals in our neighborhoods do curious things. Often the assumptions we make about their behavior are wrong. We are wrong because we assume these animals think as we think. Animal thinking is different, which is why we often misunderstand the animals around us.
When an emergency vehicle goes down the road sounding its siren, many of the dogs in the neighborhood begin to howl. I used to think that they were howling because the sound of the siren hurts their ears. I recently learned that they are responding to the siren on an entirely different level. To them it sounds like a message. By howling, they are helping to spread the message. Their howling is in no way an objection to the emergency siren; it is assistance in doing the job of the emergency siren.
Sometimes woodpeckers pound on the metal standpipe on the roof of my house. I used to think that woodpeckers were stupid birds-they could not tell the difference between wood and metal, and they could not learn the difference even after days of pounding on the metal. I recently learned that the woodpeckers are sending messages when they bang on the metal standpipe. They are announcing their presence to other woodpeckers and claiming their territory by their sound. In a natural setting, woodpeckers find hollow trees that amplify the sound of their pounding so they can claim their territory. We have made it easier for them to announce their presence and claim their territory by giving them hollow metal pipes to pound.
Mrs. Dim uses a blower to clean the deck behind her house far more frequently than necessary to keep it clean. Every day, several times a day, even when it is wet, Mrs. Dim runs her blower. I used to think that Mrs. Dim was just being annoying because that is her true nature. Either that or she had some kind of compulsion to make noise. After learning about dogs and woodpeckers, I began to understand Mrs. Dim. Like other animals, she is using noise to claim her territory. In a canine manner, she is making sure that the rest of the neighborhood knows where she is. The sound of her blower has nothing to do with keeping her deck clean. It is simply an announcement to the neighborhood: “Fear me, all you neighbors, for I am Dim.”
Animal behavior is endlessly fascinating in all its forms. This has been your educational essay for today. J.