I wish I were an albatross

As humans, we are not the fastest or the strongest animal. Even our senses are outmatched by many creatures. Birds see better than us, dogs smell better, and many animals have senses that we do not have at all.

Sharks feel magnetic fields, turtles sense electricity, and bees see ultra-violet radiation.

Elephants can sense a lack of salt in their bodies in much the same way that we feel thirsty.

The humble tortoise can outlive us by a hundred years or more.

Basic medicine is used by woolly spider monkeys who eat certain plants for birth control and parrots who eat specific clays to cure poison.

So what makes us special? Here we look at ten human attributes of which we are rightly proud, and briefly consider which animals share our abilities. Perhaps what makes us special is not any single factor, but the combination of all of these? Or perhaps it is our potential rather than what we already are?

here is just a list of things that we consider unique to humans alone..but are very much found in other species as well..



Culture encompasses all behaviors and activities which are not genetically driven and which are found throughout a local population. The arts and humanities, religions, shared attitudes and practices are all facets of culture. The wonderfully wide variety of human cultures around the world is of great interest in itself; however, not all culture is human.

For an activity to be deemed cultural, it must not be directly caused by genetics, it must be passed from one individual to another throughout a population, it must be remembered and not forgotten instantly after it has occurred, and it must be passed down through generations.

Many primates have their own cultures and traditions, such as the rain dances some chimpanzee groups perform at the beginning of storms.

In 1963, a single Japanese macaque monkey discovered the comfort of bathing in a natural hot spring, and since then the practice has spread completely throughout the troop and is still observed today.



Humans experience a wide spectrum of emotions. From anger to grief to frustration to euphoria, we live our lives moving from one emotion to the next.

Anyone who has kept a large pet, such as a dog or a cat, will be aware that these creatures experience fear, desire, panic, affection, embarrassment, and many other feelings.

Dolphin mothers whose infants have died display all the trappings of grief, and bored octopuses will eventually begin to exhibit depression.Curiosity can be seen in reptiles and jealousy of parental attention between siblings is seen in great apes. Wild apes will adopt other orphaned apes, and captive apes will take pets for interest. Altruism has been shown by gorillas in two unrelated situations where, both times, a young child fell into their zoo enclosure. Each time, a gorilla patted and soothed the child and helped return him to the human zoo keepers. Chimpanzees similarly comfort each other after attacks.

Emotions are far from an exclusively human experience.



Washoe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Language is used to communicate needs, wants, and ideas. Different groups have developed their own languages, and languages change and evolve over time. Humans use a wide range of languages, not all verbal.

The Bubi people in Equatorial Guinea speak largely with hand gestures, similar to Sign Languages spoken by deaf communities. On La Gomera of the Canary Islands, whistled language is used. Certain animals use language too. Primates, whales, birds, and squid have been shown to use distinct words to identify objects, actions, and individual names, and chimpanzees even use syntax and grammar.

As a case study, Washoe the chimpanzee was raised as a deaf human child. She learned over 350 American Sign Language words and could combine them to form new words and sentences. In the wild, chimpanzees normally only use about 70 signs. Washoe often signed conversations with her toy dolls. Β One touching example, showing that she could associate abstract ideas like emotion to novel situations, was when her human instructor explained a long absence.

One of Washoe’s caretakers was pregnant and missed work for many weeks after she miscarried. Roger Fouts(A Harvard psychologist) recounts the following situation:
“People who should be there for her and aren’t are often given the cold shoulder–her way of informing them that she’s miffed at them. Washoe greeted Kat [the caretaker] in just this way when she finally returned to work with the chimps. Kat made her apologies to Washoe, then decided to tell her the truth, signing “MY BABY DIED.” Washoe stared at her, then looked down. She finally peered into Kat’s eyes again and carefully signed “CRY”, touching her cheek and drawing her finger down the path a tear would make on a human (Chimpanzees don’t shed tears). Kat later remarked that one sign told her more about Washoe and her mental capabilities than all her longer, grammatically perfect sentences.”



Humor is a staple of life for many people. Often difficult to define, there are many strains of humor, providing amusement and often resulting in laughter. The ridiculous, the unexpected, or the juxtaposed can elicit such a feeling.

Chimpanzees, like humans, are no stranger to laughter. They often tickle each other and give unmistakable laughs as a result. However, although humor often provokes laughter, laughter does not imply humor. Even rats have been shown to be able to laugh.

Nevertheless, chimpanzees too can find situations humorous. Several great apes in captivity have been observed to laugh at situations removed from themselves such as seeing a clumsy fellow ape embarrass itself.


Tool Use

One of the defining characteristics of humans is the ability to use tools. We have created great cities, refined farming, secured the passing on of cultural knowledge through writing, and even gone to the moon.

For many years, humans were defined as the only tool-using animal. We now know this is not the case. All great apes, crows and ravens, dolphins, elephants, and even octopuses are verified tool users. Often this tool use is cultural, that is, the tools used and their manner of use will vary from one population to the next within a species.

Chimpanzees use stones as hammers and anvils and fashion spears for hunting, gorillas will use walking sticks, ravens make their own toys, gulls will use bait to fish with, dolphins use shells to catch fish in and eat from, octopuses will use coconut shells as a shelter, and elephants make water vessels to drink from.



Humans are able to mentally capture their sensory information at a particular time and store it away for later use. That is, humans can remember things. We use memories to determine the best course of action in situations we have encountered before, such as remembering which foods taste nicest and thus picking the best one when given a choice.

Animals, too, have memories, as any pet owner will tell you.Domesticated creatures can be taught to remember commands, and even goldfish have been shown to have memories lasting months. Chimpanzees remember images and numbers better than university students, and crows remember shapes better than adult humans also. Some jays and squirrels have superb spatial memories, allowing them to remember months later where they buried thousands of seeds across areas of dozens of square kilometers.

Cats have short-term memories at least ten times longer than those of humans. Interestingly, pigeons seem to base superstitions on their memories. If a pigeon is doing something like turning around when it is given food two or three times, it will remember what it was doing and begin to spin obsessively in the hopes of obtaining more food.



A jellyfish, most will agree, is not strongly aware of itself as a definitively separate being. It has no thoughts, if any, beyond its basic drives. Self-awareness was considered a human domain for many years, but we now know better. One simple illustrative test is the mirror test: seeing if an animal can recognize itself in a mirror.

A self-aware animal will realize that the movements of its reflection match its own, and deduce that the reflection is an image of itself. The animal often has a mark on its face, and if it realizes that the reflection is it itself, it will reach towards its face to feel or remove the mark.Human children do not pass this test until the age of 18 months. Animals which pass this self-awareness test, and a variety of other such tests, are all great apes, some gibbons, elephants, magpies, and some whales.



Humans are homo sapiens, the wise man. We can think and reason to our great advantage. There are, of course, many different kinds of intelligence and ways of using them. There exist many definitions of intelligence, but generally it is thought to be the ability to think, reason, plan, assess, and learn.

However, humans are not the only animals with intellect, nor are they the best in all its categories. Pigeons easily outdo humans with both visual searching and geometric recognition. Ants estimate huge numbers very accurately to determine the numbers of enemy ants from past encounters, and elephants use arithmetic.

Crows show great causal reasoning; they can observe a new and complicated mechanism and mentally deduce how to deal with it correctly rather than relying on the more time-consuming trial and error. They can unlock doors and find hidden objects based on a single period of observation, outperforming many humans.

Researchers at Oxford University and the University of Auckland, have been following the New Caledonian Crow for many years now, and what they have discovered so far, is quite fascinating.

The fact that the crows use many kinds of tools, which they craft from trees and shrubs is not that surprising- many animals and even insects are able to do that. What is surprising, is that they can select the right tools or use them in combination to get a task done – A sign that clearly reflects the intelligence of the species.

To test this, University of Auckland researcher Alex Taylor and his team, showed seven crows a piece of meat inside a tree hollow and then placed near them a stick that was too short to get to the food. Right next to it, they also placed two cages, one with a useless stone, the other, with a stick that was long enough to pull the meat.

They then watched in awe as each one of the birds figured out how to get to the meat – by first using the small stick as a tool to pull out the longer one, and then utilize the latter, to get to the food

Alex and his team then reversed the sticks placing the long one near the birds and the short one in the cage. While their first reaction was to perform the previous routine, the birds quickly realized they didn’t really need to and went on to pick the meat, using just the long stick. Though this kind of logical reasoning is common in humans, it has so far been observed only in chimpanzees and orangutans in the animal world – And, it gets better.

The latest study of these super-intelligent crows shows that they are now utilizing their tool-use aptitude to grab themselves the most nutritious foods – beetle larvae. Researchers have always wondered why the crows spend so much time trying to dislodge the larvae from tree trucks with twigs – A task that requires a lot of skill and patience.

Now, they have the answer – Apparently, these tiny grubs are so nutritious that eating just a few is enough to provide the crows with their day’s nutritional needs – A fact they have obviously figured out a long time ago.

Also, these are not the only species of crows that are smart – Tel Aviv’s hooded crow has figured out how to catch fish, by first scattering bits of bread into a pond and then snagging the unsuspecting fish as they surfaced to eat the crumbs.

And if that’s not impressive enough, there is the Japanese crow who extracts nutmeats from their hard shells by simply dropping them on the road so that the cars can crush them. What’s even better is that in order to avoid getting hit by the vehicles, they wait until the traffic light turns red, scooping the nuts only after the cars grind to a halt! Simply amazing!



Farming is the basis of modern human civilization. Believed to have been begun nearly ten thousand years ago, it allowed humans to settle in one place rather than live nomadically as they followed herds of animals for food. This in turn allowed them more time in which they could develop writing, mathematics, the wheel, farming implements, and other necessities of farming on a large scale. This spread around the world rapidly.

However, ants had already been farming for millions of years.They capture, herd, raise, and care for the health of groups of caterpillars kept in a special chamber of their nests so that they may use their sugary excretions as a food source, much like we use cows. Termites cultivate fungi to eat which are so specialized they grow nowhere else on Earth.



If nothing else, humans are fantastic builders. The cities, roads, and factories that adorn our planet are a testament to that fact. What other animal could build skyscrapers, towering hundreds of metros above them? Or highways and roads stretching for thousands of kilometers? Some animals build too.

Certain birds and apes build sophisticated nests, rabbits dig warrens to live in, and ants will even prune and cultivate trees to grow in a way which suits them as a home. The greatest builders, however, are Nigerian termites. They build fantastically huge mounds with internal ventilation, heating, and cooling systems through specially designed tunnels so that the termites living inside enjoy a pleasant climate at all times. They even have self-contained nurseries, gardens, cellars, chimneys, expressways, and sanitation systems. A termite is less than half a centimeter long yet its mound is 4m tall. For comparison, that is like a group of humans making a building over 1.5km tall.!!

Out of all those animals out there, if I were ever given an opportunity to be something other than human, i would definitely be an albatross..

It would be “cool” to be a lioness or a tigress.. there are hundreds of “pretty” birds and animals.. but my favorite albatross has a quality that many humans lack , a quality that many lack especially in modern times…

Usually an Albatrosses lives much longer than other birds, they delay breeding for longer, and invest more effort into fewer young. Albatrosses are very long lived; most species survive upwards of 50 years..with an average life span of 61 years in all the study projects..

Albatrosses reach sexual maturity slowly, after about five years, but even once they have reached maturity, they will not begin to breed for another couple of years (even up to 10 years for some species). Young non-breeders will attend a colony prior to beginning to breed, spending many years practicing the elaborate breeding rituals and “dances” that the family is famous for. Birds arriving back at the colony for the first time already have the stereotyped behaviors that compose albatross language, but can neither “read” that behavior as exhibited by other birds nor respond appropriately. After a period of trial and error learning, the young birds learn the syntax and perfect the dances. This language is mastered more rapidly if the younger birds are around older birds.

The repertoire of behavior involves synchronized performances of various actions such as preening, pointing, calling, bill clacking, staring, and combinations of such behaviors (like the sky-call). When a bird first returns to the colony it will dance with many partners, but after a number of years the number of birds an individual will interact with drops, until one partner is chosen and a pair is formed. They then continue to perfect an individual language that will eventually be unique to that one pair. Having established a pair bond that will last for life, however, most of that dance will never be used ever again.

Albatrosses are held to undertake these elaborate and painstaking rituals to ensure that the appropriate partner has been chosen and to perfect partner recognition, as egg laying and chick rearing is a huge investment. The “divorce” of a pair is a very very rare occurrence and occurs only due to the diminished life-time reproductive success it causes, and usually only happens after several years(usually 15 or more) of breeding failure.

When a creature that has a bird brain for real be so loyal to its mate, why cant we humans who claim to be 1000x more intelligent be so too?? because by the end of it all, aren’t relationships the ones that keep us sane??


13 thoughts on “I wish I were an albatross

  1. I never knew about Washoe the Chimp until now. What a sweet exchange between the chimp and its caretaker. Great post and thanks for the share πŸ™‚

  2. wow! I guess we can indeed learn a thing or two from these birds… they sure look like they got together. very informative post. great read as well.

  3. People can learn a great deal by observing and exchanging more with animals. Nature provides animals with senses that human beings do not have. We believe our capacities extend beyond them when it is a far different picture. Mother Earth gives to them powers that we can only dream about.
    Thank you for your hard work in producing this great presentation. enjoy life, Eddie

    1. i agree πŸ™‚ every creature is special in its own way..:) its so foolish of us humans to think that we are better than them.. we are just like any one of them… a mere pawn in the grand plan of mother nature..
      i am glad that you liked my entry..

  4. Loved it..:) good one…Btw, If an albatross comes to know about the things that we humans do, the efforts that we take in starting, building and maintaining a relationship, would it want to be a human? :p

    1. hehehe….
      i guess not..!! isnt your answer in your question itself..??
      “the efforts that we take in starting building and maintaining people in our lives”!!
      Why would it want that??
      well then again i don’t know… i am not an albatross yet… πŸ˜› πŸ˜€

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