Totem Spotlight: The Intelligent Bird Kind
In my 2019 book The Modern Totemist, the term kind is established as part of our totemic tradition. Animals of the same kind are animals that common perception and common-sense reasoning would group together by shared characteristics, behaviors, and/or ecological roles. This may or may not include a close genetic relationship, such as those of the same taxonomic species, genus, family, etc.
This series will examine various kinds of animals that commonly occur as totems. It will explore how to answer the Five Identifying Questions for Totemic Knowledge from our Modern Totemist tradition for a kind. It will continue with how that kind behaves in all totemic roles, as the Primary totem, the Lord, Lady, Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Dark, and Light totems. And it will discuss how that kind will affect the character of a human soul that bears it as a totem.
My goal is to provide a workable example of the process of exploring, understanding, and ultimately utilizing the knowledge a totem animal can provide according to our tradition of Modern Totemism.
The Intelligent Bird Kind Part One: The Five Identifying Questions
The Intelligent Bird kind, as my husband and I usually define it, is in reality a combination of two basic animal kinds: the Corvid kind and the Parrot kind. Corvids are crow-like birds, including all species of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and some Jays. The Parrot kind would include the roughly four hundred species of Parrot from Central and South America, Africa, South Asia, and Australia, as well as all species of Cockatoo which are also from Australia.
Though the two kinds have their differences, Corvids and Parrots have so many areas of similarity in their character and energy that it is often more efficient to discuss them together. All Intelligent Birds have useful qualities that lend themselves well to a human bearer, and though some species under this kind are seen more commonly as totems than others, all have their value and power to share.
To understand what the Intelligent Bird kind can bring as a totem, we must understand how they relate to the rest of nature. We do this by examining the Five Identifying Questions for Totemic Knowledge from our Modern Totemist tradition. (Please note that there is an additional sixth question.)
Between the two, the Corvids have the wider distribution in terms of habitat, and Ravens, Crows, and Jays thrive in nearly all environments save for the arctic (and naturally, aquatic). Like most opportunistic scavengers, Corvids are able to cope with most all weather conditions provided there is an ample food supply.
Our Parrots have more specific needs and tend to be restricted to warmer climates, such as jungles and rainforests as well as temperate forests. As they rely on a diet of mainly fruits and nuts, naturally they require a home where these foods are prevalent. However, it should be noted that feral populations of Parrots are able to survive in much colder environments, such as New York City and parts of Germany.
2: Social status
Although each kind has their differences, both Corvids and Parrots have a social structure that reflects an individual animal finding a balance between two dynamics: a pair-bonding and a flock. Pair-bondings with a mate are usually egalitarian, with both the male and the female having equal status, and in some species, the pair will compete for standing in the flock together as a single unit.
Flock dynamics can be more fluid and vary wider depending on kind and species, but in a general sense, there is a social structure based on dominance. The largest and/or most assertive animal (or pair) will intimidate the others in the flock and gain first access to choice foods, nesting sites, and perching sites. Unlike some species such as Wolves, certain individuals of the Intelligent Bird kind do not seem predisposed to be dominant or in charge, and the hierarchy of a flock can shift regularly, leaving all individual birds opportunistic when it comes to seeking status. High status in a flock involves no leadership over the others, only dominance expressed in choice of resources.
In some species (such as Amazon parrots), an individual bird will find a lifelong mate and the pair will find their social niche within the larger flock. In others (such as common Ravens), individuals will live singly within a flock for the first part of their lives, then leave the flock to live only with their mate for the second half.
In general, all kinds and species within the Intelligent Bird kind are sexually egalitarian. There is no sexual dimorphism (or difference in size between the sexes) and both males and females have standing within a flock based solely on their own ability to outsmart and intimidate the others.
It is commonly thought that the males and the females of the Intelligent Bird kind are indistinguishable in terms of coloration and markings. And that is certainly true in most cases— to human eyes. However, recent studies have shown that many kinds of Parrots have differences in their coloration by sex visible in the ultra-violet spectrum, visible to the birds themselves if not to humans. However, those differences are still minute at best. Stark differences in colors for males and females, such as with the Eclectics Parrot, are a rare exception for the kind.
In some species, both the male and female of a mated pair will take turns sitting on a nest and feeding a chick. In other species, only the female sits on the nest, and the male is solely responsible for bringing her food in the form of regurgitated meals. In all cases for the Intelligent Bird kind, both the male and the female share equally in the work of taking care of their young.
4: Size and 5: Predatory status
Nearly all members of the Intelligent Bird kind can be considered small sized animals. They always behave as potential prey; some are naturally the primary prey of larger animals (usually predatory birds) while others would be taken as opportunistic prey only. A rare few members of the Intelligent Bird kind are large enough to bully smaller animals away from their resources, such as the common Raven, the Palm Cockatoo, or most species of Macaw. Therefore, the argument could be put forth that they might be considered medium-sized animals, behaving alternately as the bully or the bullied.
The Intelligent Bird kind will never behave as a predator. Though many are omnivores, their animal food comes in the form of scavenged meat, insects, or the occasional raided nest of another bird— behaviors that do not shape their minds as predatory animals. Rather, they think as omnivorous gatherers.
6: Adaptability to Domestication
All species within the Intelligent Bird kind adapt fairly well to life in the human world. Obviously, the Parrot kind has been a favorite pet of humanity likely for millennia, and while less common, the Corvid kind as well makes good pets under the right circumstances. There is no functional biologic difference between a wild Parrot and a domestic Parrot. (That is, domestication, or physiological change by human selective breeding, has not taken place.) While not considered easy pets to care for, a knowledgeable human handler can expect an Intelligent Bird pet to live a happy and healthy life for many decades.
As stated, domesticated Parrots can also do quite well as feral animals, even in ecosystems in which they do not naturally live. They are clever, adaptable animals, able to problem solve, and hardy survivors— despite what their flamboyant colors and cute little faces would have you believe.