Anatomically, we are similar to lots of other critters. We have hearts and livers in more or less relatively the same positions in our bodies, though some of us carry ourselves horizontally and others vertically. We walk on our hind legs, but so do birds — most of them, anyway. We use tools, but so do some birds; some species of crows will poke a stick into a hole to extract food it cannot reach with its beak.

Most moms and dads exhibit special caring and attachment for their kids, especially newborns. We call it love when it’s our kids; I wonder what Mr. and Ms. American Robin call it when first they sit for hours and weeks incubating eggs until they become little birds, and then clean the nest and feed the little rascals until they can launch themselves out of the nest.

I watched a mommy robin guide her offspring, who had only minutes ago “flown” only enough to avoid crashing the eight feet from the nest to the ground around our house to the backyard, where they disappeared into the forsythia forest. Clearly, she did not want to leave them wandering around the naked grassland between the nest and the bushes.

Robins are seasonal lovers. They get together in spring to raise the kids, and both he and she share the duties. I’ve watched one slip in to feed the kids and clean their beds, then they trade places for another ration of groceries. But come next spring, people who are way better of keeping track than I say there is typically some partner swapping done before the next mating season.

I have watched Northern Cardinals meet on the dogwood outside my window and engage in some pre-nuptial communication. He presents her a sunflower seed, and if she likes it the conversation moves to the next level. At some point, they touch beaks and head off to fulfill the purpose of the season.

Like most humans in most cultures of which we Americans are generally aware, most cardinals mate for life, though life to a Northern Cardinal is only three to five years. Occasionally they divorce, and if one dies, the surviving spouse immediately looks for a new mate. Even birds do relish being alone.

The part about I have sat at my window and watched a new daddy Northern Cardinal bring his son to the dogwood tree and try to coax the young’un to the feeder attached to the window sill. Finally giving up the lesson, Dad picked up a seed and took it to the youngster, then repeated that trip several times before the two of them headed off to the woods.

Mallard ducks seem to be of a less than monogamous culture. Officially wedded, the male often goes off in search of other joys, then returns home to help create the ducklets, about a dozen of them, in a shore-based nest a short distance from the stream or pond.

I call myself a social anthropologist, but the field of my chosen field of observation is not limited to humans. I am continually amazed at how unique we are not when compared to other of our planetary companions. The more I watch, the more similarities I notice, except in one area. We do seem abnormally curiouser than other species when it comes to wondering what lies over yon mountain range.

After all, starlings would not be here had humans not invented “Shakespeare in the Park” in New York’s Central, and then brought about 100 starlings from Britain so they could see all the birds mentioned in the bard’s verses.

©2023 John Messeder. John is an award-winning environment columnist and social anthropologist, and lives in Gettysburg, PA. He may be contacted at