For the Birds Radio Program: The Superiority of Birds

Original Air Date: Nov. 24, 1986 Rerun Dates: Sept. 25, 1987

Perusing an L.L. Bean catalog, Laura is reminded of all the ways birds are superior to humans.

Duration: 3′06″


(Recording of a Mallard laughing)

I’ve just been browsing through some L.L.Bean catalogs which reminded me afresh of the superiority of birds. Much of mankind’s progress throughout the ages has been based on the desire to catch up with the most primitive of birds.

Just about any bird’s beak serves the same functions as the finest Swiss Army knife Bean offers. The naked eye of a bird has vision more acute than that of a bespectacled, binocular-clad human. A bird’s hidden ears hear and discriminate among sounds further than an expensive parabolic reflector can help a mere human hear. A common pigeon can travel wherever it wants to go without benefit of a single map or auto club membership. Most birds probably have a sense of magnetism as fine as Bean’s best compass.

What need has a loon for a canoe or for scuba gear? What need has a roadrunner for a jeep? Or a falcon for a jet plane? An Osprey fishes without rod or reel, a hawk hunts with no rifle or shotgun, a sparrow gathers its grain without a tractor.

We buy books to tell us how to raise our babies, how to buy and prepare food, how and where to travel, how to read body language, how to hunt, how to exercise–I even needed a book to tell me how to breathe when I was pregnant–yet any chick still within its egg has all that information already ingrained within its bird brain. We need electric clocks and calendars to tell us what a bird knows by its inborn biological clock.

And birds most outshine people in the area of clothing. Their natural attire protects them from the coldest arctic wind and the hottest desert sun; keeps their skin dry in salt water and fresh. And yet most birds’ dress is as beautiful as it is functional. Can any evening gown match the blue-to-violet iridesence of a common Blue Jay’s back? Does any suit-clad businessman look more distinguished and handsome than a Black-throated Blue Warbler? You’ll never see a goose buying a down jacket from L.L. Bean.

Of course, mankind has perfected a few things that birds could never match–toxic waste dumps and atomic weapons come to mind. But we also have one wonderful thing that no bird will ever have, an invention so useful that civilization as we know it today would never have developed without it, something simple and elegant enough to justify our belief that people are really superior to birds. We have–the toothbrush.

(Recording of a Mallard laughing)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”