I have set out a dish of bird seed and a basin of water on the balcony. I no longer have any illusion about birdlike innocence. One bully gets into the dish and drives off all other birds. The bullies seem demented and malicious. They skip about pecking at other birds rather than eat the seed. Why don’t the birds gang up on the bully? Is it because of a lack of language? Birds are capable of united action: they flock together and organize themselves into flights to the end of the earth.

It wearies me to think that the senseless pecking is part of the energy that fueled the ascent of life — the manifestation of a tireless, blind drive that will go on forever.

— Eric Hoffer, Before the Sabbath

Very Schopenhauerian of him. Of course, the avian belligerence he describes is indeed often the case. I’m convinced that hummingbirds, for example, use at least three-quarters of their caloric intake merely for driving other hummingbirds away from the feeder. But we recently saw a male cardinal take a bite of suet and flutter over to give it to his sweetheart perched nearby, a courting behavior which is apparently common among cardinals, who also mate for life. Perhaps even birds validate life’s struggles through tiny acts of affection and self-sacrifice which, however briefly, point toward the possibility of something meaningful beyond the senseless pecking.