A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Hooptedoodle #44 - Stereotyping in Nature

Occasionally, when I'm watching TV, I suddenly realise that the adverts are aimed at me - I mean me personally. I just know I am a target - I'm in the crosswires somewhere. Someone who is good at this stuff has doubtless worked out the likely profile of the people who will be watching this particular show, on this channel, at this time of day, and will have identified what other things that stereotypical viewer might be interested in. This afternoon I will be watching football (that may be soccer to you), so would expect to get plenty of ads for beer, or gents' toiletry products, or smallish cars. Maybe even for sports drinks, or football boots, or for those PlayStation sports-simulation games which have begun to replace actual physical exercise for our kids [which of course is why we have to import so many of our sports stars from developing nations which have not yet attained our own level of inactivity - separate topic for discussion...] There will be no ads at all for facial moisturiser creams.

The other night I was watching a programme about the D-Day landings on the UK History channel, and found that the ads were about life insurance for the over-55s, comfortable shoes by mail order, incontinence pads. Just a minute - that's not so good, is it? Should I be keeping an eye on the adverts, to check that I am correctly following the correct stereotype? Which way round does this work? I think I would be uneasy about someone accurately predicting that I would be watching a particular show. I would definitely be disgruntled by their then predicting what my marketing profile was likely to be, and I would be mortified if they were right! [In passing, is it possible to be gruntled? - I am interested in things like that.]

I guess it's something to do with not wishing to be predictable - I have always felt that if someone knows what I am going to do there is hardly any point doing it. In fact there may not be any point in being here at all.

I got to thinking about whether creatures other than humans consciously feel obliged to conform to some idea of stereotyping. In particular, do the birds come to the feeders in our garden because they are hungry and that is what they like to eat, or is it because they know we would be disappointed if they didn't? Who is watching who here (sorry, whom)? Is it possible that left to themselves the songbirds we know in our garden would actually prefer to eat at KFC?

Among the birds that come here, we are especially fond of the goldfinches. They are lovely, vigorous little things, with smart rows of buttons down their backs like Napoleonic footmen, and that wacky clown's makeup. Recently we haven't seen as many as we would expect, and Mme Foy came home a few weeks ago with a hefty bag of niger seed, and a special plastic feeder to dispense it. Niger seed, it says in the books - and especially on the back of the pack of niger seed - is what goldfinches really like. Interesting. Trying to ignore the fact that, gram for gram, niger seed is about the same price as prime foie gras, I think this through:

* could this be why the goldfinches have been neglecting us? - because we have had no niger seed?

* does this, in turn, mean that goldfinches eat nothing else? - in fact we know this is not true, since we have often seen them busily hoovering the general-purpose bird seed.

* perhaps it means, then, that they prefer niger seed if there is some, and a neighbour has had it on the menu? - in fact this is not likely either, since as far as I know none of our neighbours is that interested, and certainly not daft enough to pay out for niger seed.

* no - none of this seems likely - probably we'll put out the niger seed and we'll continue to have few goldfinches. We will have the same number of goldfinches, but less money. Perhaps they are dying out.

Don't you believe it. Within days the place was buzzing with goldfinches. Since they are untidy eaters, they throw the niger seed all over the place, and then there's a big feeding frenzy on the ground (see illustration). So where have they been? What's going on here? It is possible, of course, that we have now pinched all the goldfinches from the surrounding area, but in fact there were not many around. Probably best not to worry about this, I think, enjoy the little chaps while they're here and plan ways to save up for the next niger shipment.

It is interesting, though.


  1. Not sure that I have EVER felt that I fit into anyone's target audience, not this century anyway, not even when looking in a wargame magazine which is a little sad in some ways.

    But as for tasty treats for critters, never under estimate their ability to spread the word (word, word word, bir....never mind) nor their discerning appetite. Sure, given no option they'll eat what they have to but if there's a special on down the road or a new 5 star buffet opens, they're there. No sense of customer loyalty.

    1. If we just knew what TV programmes golfinches watch, we could get our profile up a bit. I am impressed by the way the word gets around. I wonder what they actually say to each other?

      Perhaps they Tweet each other? (sorry - that was to save anyone else saying this)

      Cheers - Tony

  2. If those Niger seeds are little black specks of nothing, I can confirm similar results both in the bird number attraction rate and subsequent throwing-about of them (seeds - not birds!), are Niger seeds even native? There is a Poplar Niger, but then they'd be Poplar seeds? Are they in fact shipped in from wherever the little critters go to, do they go anywhere? Niger perhaps? I think we should be told....

    1. Hugh - I understand that UK goldfinches migrate - at least breeders do - to Spain and N Africa. The niger packet tells me (and I didn't know this) that niger seeds are the seeds of the ramtil plant, which grows in Ethiopia. Ramtil is related to sunflowers, though I have to say the seeds are rather different in size!

      I don't know about you, but I was just as happy when I didn't know that! - cheers - Tony

  3. Oh...I think I shall sleep easier for knowing all that!!



  4. LOL! I think I need me some of that Niger seed, I don't know why but reading this post I just feel, I just feel, feel compelled to buy some.......

    1. You won't regret it, sir. Not only will your garden be full of goldfinches, but the sun will shine every day and you will be less likely to suffer from embarrassing warts. Just complete the attached form, signing over your house to us, and our expert shippers will rush you a pack. Your life will never be the same.

      As a valued customer we will regularly send you special deals on other crap you don't want. Please put a tick in the little box if you don't want this [can't find it, can ya....?]

      Best wishes from MSF at DodgySeeds

    2. I think they are communicating by telepathy, as do other animals, and that we could too if we were in a dream, but in our conscious state we don't.

      That explains why a whole flock can maneuver as one, and various other phenomena.

      Although they may see us as an ignorant lot, because we do not get the telepathy unless we are asleep, those of us who provide the niger seeds are no doubt seen in a better and more appreciative light by them than the rest of us.

    3. I'm pretty certain that the birds realise they are manipulating us. A couple of times during the last 10 years, I've seen bluetits fluttering outside our kitchen window, apparently trying to attract our attention to the fact that the feeders were empty. I swear this is true, by the way. There can be no other reason they would do this only when the peanuts had run out - none I can think of anyway.

      You don't suppose the bluetits run the TV stations, do you? I think they probably don't - the programming would be more intelligent if they did.

  5. How about racoons and squirrels. Years ago when I lived in the city I put out peanuts for the squirrels. Initially I put them out at night. One night I got that feeling I was being watched (3rd floor of a house). I turned around and there was a racoon looking at me and I could tell it was waiting for peanuts. After that I put out peanuts both at night and in the morning. After about a year if I slept in on the weekend the squirrels would be banging on the window wanting to be feed. I've always wondered what the tenent after me thought about my friends.

    Thanks for sharing, I hadn't thought about them in a while.

    1. Brilliant story - thanks, Dave.