, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 263–275 | Cite as

The Discourse of the Birds

  • David AbramEmail author
Original Paper


Modern humans spend much of their time deploying a very rarefied form of intelligence, manipulating abstract symbols while their muscled body is mostly inert. Other animals, in a constant and largely unmediated relation with their earthly surroundings, think with the whole of their bodies. This kind of distributed sentience, this intelligence in the limbs, is especially keen in the case of birds of flight. Unlike most creatures of the ground, who must traverse an opaque surface of only two-plus dimensions as we make our way through the world, a soaring bird continually adjusts minute muscles in its wings to navigate an omnidimensional plenum of currents and interference patterns that alter from moment to moment. Flight itself may usefully be considered as a kind of thinking—as a sort of gliding within the mind. Moreover, since birds are commonly the most mobile inhabitants of any woodland, able to fly over and scan numerous events occurring on the ground, their varied utterances provide a crucial source of information for many other animals. This paper, written as a philosophic essay, explores avian cognition from a phenomenological standpoint. It then reflects upon the vocalizations of birds—noting the major role that such avian calls, cries, and songs have played in the development of human culture.


Phenomenology Cognition Birds Flight Avian language Interspecies communication Animal intelligence 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Alliance for Wild EthicsSanta FeUSA

Personalised recommendations