When we moved to town, I gave up a large garden and sometimes I really miss it, not only for the harvest of veggies and flowers it provided but also for the learning opportunities it presented. Fortunately, I live beside the community gardens and sometimes I saunter around in there admiring other people’s hard work.
While checking the progress of some amazing purple skinned tomatoes last week, I realized there were many birds chirping and chattering from the surrounding trees. Soon, they flitted down to the sunflowers and busied themselves with collecting seeds. There were black capped chickadees, American goldfinches, common yellowthroats and nuthatches all working over the stand of flowers. Each bird would return to the same spot, dislodge a seed or two, then flit to another stalk and eat the seed or fly away to the surrounding trees.
As usual, I wanted to find out more about their behaviour, particularly because the winter survival of these tiny birds intrigues me. Apparently, birds like chickadees and finches can gain an insulating layer of body fat from high fat sources like sunflower seeds. Also, they store these seeds in bark and in pine needle clusters for consumption later in the year. Even more fascinating, “Chickadees have relatively large hippocampi (a part of the brain important for spatial memory) compared with other birds, and they even grow extra neurons (brain cells) in the fall when they are busiest creating and remembering…”(Animal Behaviour by David Sherry)
Since learning is one way in which people can grow extra neurons, discovering new details about the winter survival adaptations of birds is a harvest that I reaped from the gardens, even though I don’t have a plot of my own. Coincidentally, eating dark skinned fruits and veggies also facilitates neuronal growth, so my sample of the purple skinned tomatoes was technically scientific research. (PS: I did a little weeding as a thank you…)