Are you a starling or a sparrow?

There is a tree outside my home office.

I used to have a room off the kitchen, but we decided to turn that into a bit of a utility room. I was therefore banished to the other end of the house in a former bedroom. It has been redecorated and in fact, has a number of significant advantages. One is that it is very quiet as I no longer get any noise from the kitchen. The other is my tree.

My tree is a spruce which we planted about 20 years ago and it is probably about 6 metres high. In reality, it was probably planted too close to the house and the jury is currently out on whether we need to remove it. However, for now, it has a number of bird feeders hanging from its branches which I can see when I am working from home.

We have had bird feeders in our garden for a few years. The problem has always been during the summer months, we get hundreds of starlings who descend on any feeder and decimate it in minutes.

But the feeders hanging on my tree are starling proof. That means we get a lot of small birds (sparrows, green finches and gold finches) and some very frustrated starlings.

It is very interesting to watch the behaviour of all these different birds at our feeders. You cannot help but see human traits in the way in which these birds interact.

I have a secret admiration for starlings. They are focused, determined and adaptable. We tried everything we could to deter them from our old feeders but whatever we did, they adapted. I find it hard to believe that nationally their numbers appear to be in decline. These must be the entrepreneurs of the bird community. They know what they want and no one is going to get in their way. They have goals and the determination to achieve them.

Sparrows are fascinating to watch. Even though there is plenty of food, as it is now behind starling proof screens, they squabble and fight at the feeders. They seem to spend their whole time complaining and will eat everything that someone else is willing to put out for them. They get what they want and still complain. Know anyone like that?

Green finches come down and feed among the sparrows. They come down, they feed, they never fight or squabble or seem to complain. They are more relaxed and even tempered. They get all the feed they want or need, and then they go away. I think that if they could speak they would probably be thanking us for the food. Quiet, apparently unassuming and grateful for the food. Are these the professionals of the bird world. Could these be the lawyers and accountants, quietly getting on with their work, never (not usually) falling out with anyone, and grateful for their clients loyalty in accessing their services.

Gold finches seem to come down to feed later than the other birds. There is still plenty of food left but they seem to prefer to avoid the hurley burley and like a less fraught environment in which to feed. They generally don’t hang around for long, so presumably have other sources of food to access, preferring a more varied and balanced diet. Like the green finches, they don’t squabble or complain. You can hear their bird song in the tree and it is pleasant and not aggressive. Can I be provocative and suggest that these are perhaps the liberal democrats of the bird world.

I realise that I am attributing wild birds with apparent human characteristics but it seems to me that these human behaviours are not limited to you and me. So, if that is the case, where do they come from. Now if there are any behavioural psychologists out there and you want to enlighten me over a coffee, that is fine.

But what this all seemed to tell me is that there are certain people who are naturals when it comes to business and that there are others whose temperament and behaviour is not consistent with self-employment. I have certainly come across business owners in this latter category, even other accountants. No names! Is it possible to overcome these in-built characteristics to better fit with a business life? I think that it is. I believe it is up to all of us to educate ourselves. We have free will and however our brains have been programmed, whether by nature or nurture, we have the ability to override that programming if we want to.

By the way, when my kids were young, we all had our own birds, including pied wagtails, terns, redshanks, oyster catchers, shell duck, heron etc. All birds that we would see when we were out and about. We had names for all our close family. They thought mine should be a skua because it was always so mean to all the other birds! Make of that what you will. We now own a company called Skua Limited. It seemed appropriate.

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Alan E Long

The Long Partnership

07770 738770



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