do birds fly for fun

Dr. Universe: Why do birds circle when they find food instead of just going and eating it? – Eden, 7, Michigan

I live close to a natural area with lots of birds of prey like hawks and eagles. I love to watch them sitting in ginormous nests on top of electrical poles. Or swooping around in big circles while they search for a meal.

I talked about why they circle with my friend Jennifer Phillips. She’s a wildlife ecologist at Washington State University. She studies the relationship between birds and the environment.

She told me that birds of prey fly in a circle because they’re riding warm air currents called thermal updrafts or thermals. As the sun heats the Earth, some pockets of air get hotter than others. That warmer air rises. Birds can hop on those warm, rising thermals and ride them. That saves energy.

“They’re able to catch the thermal and spiral up,” Phillips said. “If they’re searching for prey, they might circle an area for a while. They’re scanning for small mice or insects or whatever they might be hunting.”

Birds also ride thermals when they’re traveling long distances – like during migration. It’s like hopping on a moving sidewalk or escalator. The birds can rest and glide while thermals carry them along. Or they can fly faster with the extra boost from the thermal.

If that sounds fun, birds seem to agree with you. Phillips told me that sometimes it looks like birds are swooping around and playing in thermal updrafts.

Riding thermals helps birds of prey hunt because their eyes are on the front of their heads – like our eyes.

“They have binocular vision just like we do,” Phillips said. “If they’re staying in the same spot and circling in one area, they’re focusing on what’s below them.”

That excellent eyesight – along with curved beaks, sharp talons and an all-meat diet – is what makes them birds of prey.

But small birds that forage for food sometimes circle, too. They ride thermals to migrate or for fun. Sometimes they hop in a circle around a food item on the ground – like crumbs in a parking lot. Unlike us, their eyes are on the sides of their heads. So, they have to approach a food item from a circle to really see it. Plus, circling helps them scan for predators or other dangers nearby.

It turns out birds circle for lots of reasons. If you watch carefully and think like a bird, you may be able to figure out exactly what they’re doing.

That’s what I do when I watch birds of prey near my house. When it comes to understanding bird behavior, owl never give up.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Reviews Northwest Passages community forums series — which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper — by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.

How? There are various ways that affect can be communicated: you beam your mood at me. We’ve all had experiences like this with love and sex. While conversing with someone, you have a deep sense that they are interested in you. They’ve beamed their desire into you. You can’t measure it but you know it.

Numbers are great because they give the appearance of objectivity. More specifically, measurement is great. The numbers don’t lie, despite the fact that we can all say and even see different things: I see orange, I see blue. This is, of course, insane. Take a moment to consider this: our actual lives, our experiences, are not the same as a number on a screen. This numerical clarity actually kind of makes me think that it’s beautiful. It’s the madness of reason.

Light can of course be quantified — which is odd. Color evokes strong emotions and is loaded with associations, moods, histories, and sensations. However, it can also be thought of as a wavelength with a specific, quantifiable frequency.

I do not intend to disparage numbers or what is known as “objective measurement.” It’s very useful and supports us in many ways, particularly in the admittedly insane field of medicine. However, I do want to draw attention to how incredibly strange it is that we can ignore or reject our experience in favor of some abstract symbols on a page or screen. This, according to Nietzsche, is a form of nihilism—a self-effacement motivated by an ideal that is abstract.

This is a classic college stoner discussion: What if what I see as blue, you see as pink? How would we ever know, man? But how could I know such a thing? Indeed, how do we ever know what’s going on in the minds and experiences of another?

FAQ

Do birds sometimes fly just for fun?

There is no doubt that some bird species do fly just for fun. I’ve been a naturalist all my life and as a geologist have spent cumulative years “in the wilds” of Northern Canada with much time observing birds flying, which is the main reason why I took up PG.

Do birds have a concept of fun?

With respect to our argument that birds have brains capable of experiencing pleasure (and so having fun), it is noteworthy that receptors for both dopamine and opiates are found in overlapping brain regions in those areas equivalent to hedonic brain regions in rodents and primates.

Do birds always fly for a purpose?

To relocate according to the season, some birds migrate over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles), and some fly thousands of kilometers at a time non-stop, while others spend most of their life flying, except when raising chicks.

Does flying make birds happy?

Flighted birds typically have fewer behavioral issues since flight reduces boredom and releases happy hormones called endorphins. Less pent up energy and tired from flight, leaves a bird with a more peaceful mental state with better overall temperament. As a general rule, flighted birds make better companions.