Speaking bee, duck and water dragon

Have you ever wished you could be like Dr. Doolittle and converse with animals? Maybe, like my brother, you already do.

My brother is a beekeeper and needs to be mindful of his hive with the onset of winter. He also understands the language of his bees and has a relationship of mutual respect with his hive. Let me explain.

Last year he had a hive of Italian bees, popular because they aren’t aggressive, but their passivity made it possible for invaders like wax moths to take over the hive, and the Italian bees didn’t survive the winter. His new batch is from Saskatchewan and are more hardy, but also more aggressive. He watches their body language. While cutting the lawn near their hive, he pays attention. If they start buzz-bombing him, he knows to back off and give them space. He also knows not to get in their flight path. He experimented with moving their hive from shade into sun and found that when they’re too warm, they get grumpy. My brother communicates with his bees.

I could communicate with my pet ducks. I was able to pick out the nuances in my four mallard’s quacks, gabbles, and actions. I also understood their body language. When they tilted their heads skyward and sunk themselves into the ground improving their chances to camou-flage, I knew a bird of prey was overheard and I was on guard. When they saw the slice of wa-termelon I was carrying and came running, they showed me their food preferences. When they waddled to their pen at dusk, they were asking to be tucked in for the night. When I left them at the cabin’s lake knowing they’d want to fly south soon, I told them good-bye. “Come back and see me in the spring.” I hope they do.

I’m not the only one who talks to birds. My cousin Carrie has a sun conure (part of the parrot family) named Cheeto. Cheeto often keeps her company while watching TV in the even-ing. Cheeto will nestle in on her shoulder or sit at the top of her head. When he wiggles about and acts agitated, she says, “Do you have to go potty?” She takes him to his cage where he does his business, and then they return to the couch.

My daughter Heidi can understand a water dragon. Jake, her lizard whose body is the size of her palm, kept lifting its front leg and “waving” at her. Heidi used to wave back until she did some research and found waving is the way a water dragon shows submission. They show aggression by bobbing their head. When Jake wants out of his terrarium, he paws at the glass. If he’s sassy about his demands, she lets him know he’s not going to get his way. She does this by giving him a head bob.

Maybe you’ve witnessed instances of animals also making an effort to understand hu-man language and ways. Family cats and dogs learn routines, words, and act human at times. I’m often amazed at how much my dog understands and how she loves to participate in family activities such as playing balloon volleyball. She delights us when she uses her nose and front paws to set up the balloon so we can hit it and keep it in the air.

Whether human or animal, when we pay attention and make the effort to understand one another, respect grows.

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