Outside the Peet’s in Potrero Center, there’s a flock of birds that perches on the empty chairbacks near people sitting and sipping their espresso. It’s easy to take them for blackbirds looking for food, but they’re not. Blackbirds are like New Yorkers: restless, quick, aggressively biting at opportunities. These slower and more patient creatures are cowbirds, who might grab a crumb if it lands near them but are generally content just to sit near people, as if enjoying their company, which they are, in a way. Cowbirds evolved to survive on the insects startled out of the grass by herds of bison and cattle, equipping them with an instinct to hang around groups of large, sedentary mammals.
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