Evolution in the News - August 2004
by Do-While Jones

Smart Swallows

We all know birds can do things by instinct (such as build nests and migrate), and some can be taught to repeat words. Now we know they can figure out how to use modern technology.

As we were editing S. Chandler’s Darwin Want a Cracker manuscript, we happened to see some amazing video on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

This next story is not a hallucination and do not adjust your set, it’s a bunch of birds living inside a Home Depot store in Maplewood, Minnesota. That wouldn’t be so odd, except that these barn swallows have actually taught themselves how to get in and out of the store by activating the motion sensors on the automatic doors. The birds have been coming and going for years, leaving the store to get food and returning to feed the chicks inside--and to take advantage of the low, low price of sheet rock. This spectacle has amazed employees, like Keith Staumberg. 1

The story was also reported by ABC on June 16, 2004.

Some barn swallows at a Home Depot in Minneapolis may have you think twice. See, they've figured out how to open the store's doors.

They circle in front of the motion detector, the doors open, and the birds fly through and take lunch up to the kids that are nesting in the building. Then it's back to the door, buzz by the motion detector--and fly through again to hunt for more food.

One night, the manager locked the doors. The birds weren't happy, and they buzzed by his head-even dove at him--until he unlocked the doors and they could get out. 2

We called the manager at the Home Depot to talk to him about the swallows. In particular, we were interested to know if the sensors were ultrasonic (which the birds might be able to hear) or passive infrared (which act like a camera, emitting no beam which the birds could detect). He said the motion detectors are infrared.

It was the store manager’s opinion that the birds had learned that when they fly in front of the door, it would open immediately thereafter. They were able to reason from cause to effect.

We don’t know if the rest of the swallows learned by watching the first swallow do it, or learned by themselves. What if the first swallow to open the door actually told the other swallows what he learned? How did they figure out that the manager was able to unlock the door?

It would be hard for an evolutionist to argue that the ability to open automatic doors is an instinct that evolved naturally. Swallows were around long before automatic doors were invented. Why would natural selection favor swallows that had the instinctive ability to open automatic doors before automatic doors were invented? It doesn’t make sense.

Evolutionists don’t seem to have a problem with animal instinct (even though they can’t really explain it), presumably because it is a characteristic of the “lower” forms of life. But the ability to reason was supposedly one of the last things to evolve. The ability to reason, supposedly, is what separates us from the “dumb animals” in general, and chimpanzees in particular.

But the more we learn about animals, the more we learn how smart the “dumb animals” really are. We don’t seem to have cornered the market on the ability to reason.

But maybe we can take comfort knowing that those swallows aren’t so smart after all. The Home Depot manager told us, “They haven’t learned not to poop inside the store.”

Quick links to
Science Against Evolution
Home Page
Back issues of
(our newsletter)
Web Site
of the Month
Topical Index


1 transcript from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5287833/
2 http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/features/strangenews/wabc_061604_birds.html