The growing eagle family, and the consciousness of other animals
by Rob Tiller
On Thursday afternoon I went up to Shelley Lake with my camera equipment to check on the nesting eagles. The walk to the nest is close to a mile along a paved path on the east side of the lake. It was clear and mild, though breezy. When I got there, papa eagle was perched in the pine tree beside the nest. A fellow eagle watcher said there were two chicks in the nest, and mama was off hunting. Forty-five minutes later, she flew in with some food in her talons and disappeared in the nest. When she emerged, she spent a few minutes perched with her mate, and then flew off.
Of course, I was excited to see the birds, but there was also something calming about being near them. The wind sometimes blew the pine branches in front of them, or blew them aside for one second, just enough for a picture.
Speaking of animals, I’ve been reading two good books — Mama’s Last Hug, by Frans de Waal and Beyond Words, by Carl Safina. Both books explore animal social organizations and thought processes. Dr. de Waal’s primary subjects are chimpanzees and other primates. De Waal explains that when he was a young scientist, the orthodox view in academia was that animals did not have emotions. He’s devoted his career to testing this view, and has succeeded in thoroughly debunking it. In exploring non-human animal emotions, he shows us more about our own minds.
Dr. Safina focuses on elephants, wolves, and killer whales, and closely observes a few of their social organizations and personalities. The stories are moving, and raise absorbing questions about the consciousness of these animals. Some of the human behaviors, including killing elephants for their tusks and killing other creatures merely for pleasure, raise uncomfortable questions about human morality.