Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Zebra Finch Learns to Go Down

I used to live in a house with two zebra finches. They were not always the same two birds. Finches, as you might know, have a pretty short shelf life, and we often had to replace them (I am not going to tell you about the dangers they encountered.) But there were always two.

One day a new female zebra finch arrived. It soon became apparent that she did not know how to fly downwards. She would sit on the perch, lean over as far as she could - until she was almost upside down - and jump off.

But unfortunately, every time she jumped, she flapped her wings, and every time she flapped her wings, she went upwards. She did this over and over. It was horribly funny - "horrible" mostly because the food and water was on the floor of the cage. But she did manage to figure out how to get down there before starving to death.

A few months later, I observed her sitting on a high perch in the cage. She hopped down to a lower perch, and flew down to the floor. Then she flew back up to the highest perch, and hopped down from perch, to perch, to floor again. She did this over and over. It seemed obvious that she was only doing it for fun. She wasn't looking for food, or nest-building material, or anything. She just liked going down.

Is it possible that, somewhere in her tiny brain, a memory remained of the time when she couldn't get down to the floor? Maybe she was just practicing, to make sure she never forgot again.

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