The biggest lesson I have learnt from my girls is how to wonder about the world around me. One of the biggest surprises for me as a parent was the age at which my girls started asking the really big questions of life. For some reason I thought it would happen when they were teenagers but instead the questions started soon after they began to speak.
The first question was naturally, "Why?" Such a good open ended question to get the adults around you to open up and explain things! They rapidly moved on to questions such as "What's at the end of the universe?", "Is everything made of atoms?", "How did we think before there was language?" "What's that bird?" "What's this flower called?" "Can I eat this?"
They had such confidence in my knowledge and ability to teach them everything they needed to know. And for my part, I felt keenly all the areas where I just didn't know the answers to their questions.
The questions made me want to know more about the world around me, especially the plants and creatures. And the more I learn about birds, the more I am filled with a sense of wonder for the miracle of flight and bird song.
Noam Chomsky believes that humans are superior to animals because we speak languages and animals are not able to speak any of our languages. Experiments have tried to teach chimpanzees English and they have learnt a few words but not grasped the whole language. I always had a problem with this idea - that our languages are superior to those of animals and that if they can't speak our language then of course they mustn't have one. The idea that they already have a complex language and intelligence of their own and that the failing is ours because we cannot understand or speak it doesn't seem to have occurred to him. Nor does the idea that there is more to language and intelligence than speech and grasping abstract concepts.
I wonder if he ever marvelled at the sight of a bird on the wing. Or wondered how birds can migrate to breeding grounds they have never seen. I wonder if he has ever tried to build a nest. When my oldest daughter was five we tried to make a bird's nest and failed miserably. We marvelled at the skill of the nest builders and their beaks to fashion homes for their eggs.
Reading the Genius Of Birds by has confirmed my belief that other species are just as intelligent as humans and that there is far more to intelligence than passing tests. It's a fascinating glimpse of the avian world and the amazing birds that inhabit it. If you too are wondering about the birds you see flying overhead, you should read this book.