No socks this year please Santa. But what is on your list? A ball of spit? A skewered frog or two? Or some silk-wrapped ‘pre-loved’ insect remains? No? Well, what about stolen goods then.
If you watched the last episode of Planet Earth II you can’t fail to have noticed sundry animals getting up to all kinds of skullduggery, not to mention some downright theft. Sneaky, opportunistic – or just clever? Well, one poor little guy living near a golf course in Australia wasn’t as clever as he thought, and his gift-giving went horribly wrong.
The scene opens with our hero – a bower bird – fussing over his art work in front of his bower, arranging and rearranging, intent on enticing a prospective mate – or two, or three…
For his colour scheme he choses white, enlivened with a splash of red here and there: a red plastic fork, a red bottle top, lengths of red string. Still he contemplates his beak-work with dissatisfaction.
Something is missing and he knows just what it is. His neighbour has hit the jackpot with the latest find for his own showpiece – a red plush heart the size of a child’s hand. It seems so improbable, but yes, really, a red plush heart. How did that get on the golf course? Whatever, no bower bird of the opposite sex is going to be able to resist that!
Envy is eating our guy up, but he knows all he has to do is loiter nonchalantly in a nearby tree and wait. His patience is rewarded – the possessor of The Heart flies off to find more objets d’art for his masterpiece. Our guy wastes no time. He swoops and carries off the prize. Back home he makes the wondrous heart the centrepiece of his display.
Soon his artistry (and thievery) bear results – a visitor arrives to inspect his creation.
Our little guy parades one cherished object after another before his guest, starting with the red plastic fork. But the visitor is not impressed. How about a length of red string then? Boy, this one is hard to please. There’s nothing for it but to offer up his pièce de resistance – The Red Heart. He hopes this will clinch the deal, and yes, finally, his gift is a winner. His visitor graciously accepts the proffered heart.
But oh no, now what’s happening?!? Our little guy has been duped. Far from falling for his charms, the prospective mate flies off with his most treasured (but stolen) possession. She is no lady, and not just because she’s a trickster and a thief – ‘she’ is in fact a juvenile male. Well all’s fair in love and war they say, and there surely is no honour among bower bird thieves.
I Made it Myself
A red plush heart as a gift to impress your lady is one thing. But how about a ball of spit? And not just any old ball of spit. The male scorpion fly (so called because his tail-end resembles a scorpion’s sting, actually his genitalia) offers his girl a ball a whole tenth of his body-weight in spit. That’s an impressive amount of spit. If the protein-rich saliva wins her over, she eats it, and the deal is sealed.
Still, a ball of spit has got to be better than a ball of something else, which is the dung beetle’s offering to his beloved!
Do I Look Stupid?
Dodgy doings and trickery are not exclusive to the bower bird. A certain S. American spider gift-wraps his prey in spider silk before offering it to his beloved. But who knows what’s really inside that silk parcel? This gent is prone to giving in to his greed and presenting his sweetheart with an offering that is, yes, beautifully wrapped. But when she tears off the layers in excitement, she discovers she’s been conned. All that’s inside is the evidence of his gluttony, the worthless remains of his prey. What a cheapskate. And no Mr. spider-guy, trying to claim it’s “pre-loved” simply will not cut it.
You’ll Want for Nothing, Darling
No such scamming for this pretty little songbird. His modus operandi is 100% above board. Everything he has on offer he puts on conspicuous display to catch the eye of passing females. But don’t be deceived by those cute looks, this little avian has a startlingly macabre side. His love gift is a well-stocked ‘larder’… of corpses. If you’re ever in Scandinavia and stumble across a spiky bush gruesomely adorned with the carcasses of insects, frogs, toads, fish, lizards, mice, voles, stoats, bats or maybe even other birds , all brutally skewered on its thorns, you’ll know ‘the butcher bird’ is not far away.
You may have noticed a common thread running through the antics of all our dudes so far, and it’s a three-letter word beginning with ‘s’. Those fellas without exception expect a full return on their gifts. But the critters up next have no such ulterior motives with their giving. A bunch of well-brought up crows in Washington State give gifts just to say ‘Thanks’.
Sparklies Are a Girl’s Best Friend
This murder of crows (that really is what seems a totally inappropriate collective noun for them) delivers all kinds of trinkets to Gabi, a young Seattle girl. Their offerings are invariably bright, shiny and small – small enough, naturally, to be carried in a crow’s beak.
Gabi had a habit of sharing her packed lunch with her feathered friends on her way to and from the school bus. Soon they were lining up on the fence waiting for her. So she began feeding them properly every day in her garden. It wasn’t long before she started to find little offerings left on the food trays – buttons, beads, bits of glass, earrings, paper clips, even a little silver ball.
One crow found the lens cap her mom had lost from her camera. He was seen dunking it in the bird bath as if to clean it before leaving it for her on one of the trays. To date she’s amassed quite a collection of little trinkets, and she treasures every one.
Stuff the ‘murder of crows’! Wouldn’t a much more fitting collective name for these clever, appreciative birds be ‘a courtesy of crows’?
The Gift that Says You Must Try Harder
Let experts disembarrass you though of the notion it’s “Thank you” your cat wishes to express when she drops her latest poor little victim on the carpet at your feet. Cat behaviorists say it’s the feline equivalent of a slap on the wrist, moggie’s way of venting her acute disappointment at your painful lack of hunting skills, and a much-needed lesson in how it’s done.
Cat behaviourists may think they’re doing us a favour with this unsolicited tidbit of information. But in this instance I reckon ignorance is bliss. Allow us to keep our happy little illusions. Forget the experts spoke. Of course our cats are saying “Thank you” and “I love you”. Aren’t they?
So, which animal is the bees’ knees, the cat’s pyjamas of gift-givers?
Just for their adorable good manners, the crows get my vote.
Compared with corpse larders, spit and dung though, socks may not be looking such a bad option after all!
At the very end of Planet Earth II, Sir David Attenborough says this:
“Surely it’s our responsibility to do everything in our power to create a planet that’s not just for us but for all life on Earth“
Sir David’s impassioned plea for the planet is sobering. Let’s hope the movers and shakers of the world took note, and that it prompts the rest of us as individuals to shoulder that responsibility on ourselves and do “everything in our power’ to live in a conscious, animal-friendly, life-friendly, eco-friendly, sustainable way.
Let’s make this our gift to the planet
There could be no better way of kickstarting 2017
Sign up to Veganuary here
Check out Veganuary’s Facebook page here
Discover a great resource for sustainable living tips here
5 Gifts That Animals Give Each Other – Center for Biological Diversity – Medium
The girl who gets gifts from birds – BBC News magazine
Cover pic socks from Sock It To Me