MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Strange behavior for a cardinal

Date: Tue Mar 13 09:37:28 2001
Posted By: Kurt Wollenberg, Assistant Professor, Ophthalmology and Medicine
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 982129949.Zo

From first-hand experience I can tell you that cardinals are very 
aggressive birds. On one occasion I saw one attacking his reflection in a 
car's hubcap and outside rear-view mirror. When extracting cardinals from 
mist nets they again exhibit very aggressive behavior. They always attempt 
to bite your fingers and hands whenever they are near enough to do so. On 
one occassion a cardinal caught a sharp-shinned hawk that had been 
attempting to get an easy meal out of the nets. Apparently the hawk missed 
his target and the cardinal caught the hawk's toe in his bill and would not 
let go. When we came upon the scene the hawk was flapping with all of his 
might but wasn't going anywhere. The cardinal was firmly clamped down on 
the hawk's toe and we had to force him to release the bird.

This behavior of attacking reflections as if they were another individual 
is what researchers in neuroscience and cognition would label a lack of 
self-awareness. At present, humans and only a few other animals (dolphins 
and chimpanzees, I think) seem to be aware that the image in a mirror is a 
reflection of themselves. Most animals see this image as another individual 
and behave accordingly. In the case of the male cardinal the appropriate 
behavior would be to attempt to drive the intruder away. These patterns of 
behavior are interpreted by scientists studying consciousness and 
associated phenomena as evidence of different levels of cognitive 

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