What would it be like? What species would be the most likely candidates for sentience? How would they have changed if sentience developed? Is it possible that sentience in another species might out achieve us in terms of intelligence and technology?
Sometimes I find myself asking these questions. I’ll never have adequate answers unless some course of events causes a sentient species to spring out of nowhere in my lifetime. But, I can always take a stab at guessing. That’s what science fiction tends to be concerned with; the multitude of paths the future could take, and all the plausible changes therein.
Circumstances alone can sometimes aid in the development of an intelligent species. Dinosaurs were dominant on Earth until the asteroid impact knocked them out, giving early mammal ancestors a chance to take hold. Early birds also showed up some time after.
I’m going to favor birds in this topic, because they are less obvious than chimpanzees or dolphins, and thus most people don’t notice them as much. Rarely do you hear of everyday people thinking of birds as contenders in the game of intelligence, but they are actually quite impressive. Corvids (crows and ravens), Psittacines(parrots), and even pigeons are counted as the most notable. They are known for problem solving abilities, and also being emotional.
Birds, in general, are very social animals, much like us. They are helpless from the moment they hatch out of the egg, and must be fed at regular intervals by their parent/s. They grow and learn to live in flocks, foraging for food, competing, sometimes working together, and pairing up to mate and raise young.
Intelligence is also supposedly linked to bipedalism, and birds are bipedal while not in flight. I wonder if that doesn’t give them a leg up in the statistics between animal groups.
The thing is, I tend to believe intelligence could arise in many species given enough time and the right environmental circumstances. Social species, even including insects and some reptiles, could become potential candidates in development toward sentience.
Some birds have a call system of vocally produced sounds, and also some physical gestures they seem to pass between each other.
Some birds have crests that they are able to erect on their heads to display great excitement or aggression. Tail wagging, similar to a dog’s, is a sign of contentment, and fanning out the tail feathers can be used as a threat display. Some birds, especially cockatoos, will tap their feet as a sign of dominance over their territory.
Posturing is also important in the world of body language for birds. Bowing with the head facing another bird is a request for grooming. If the head and body are rigid at attention, and feathers are flared out, this is a signal to others that the bird owns the territory. Aggression is expressed when a bird holds a rigid crouching position with tail feathers flared, ruffled feathers, and head down. Birds may also add a hiss as extra warning.
There is even a form of name that a parrot will call her chick by, which I learned only recently. It really impressed me. The parent will use her own natural call with an added new note toward the end in reference to her young. The chick then begins repeating this call as it’s own, eventually passing it on in the same fashion.
Youtube video from the Cornell Lab or Ornithology
In talking about this subject, I realize that there have hardly been any avian-like aliens in fiction that I’ve read. The only example I know of is in Richard K. Morgan’s “Broken Angels”. Good read, by the way.
There were ruins described in the book that the civilization left behind, and it was not too far off what may have been a city for a sentient bird species. As such, they were quite difficult for flightless humans to access.
I have to wonder also what kind of technology this sentient species would develop, being that birds are quite particular about their various habits, likes, and dislikes.
Another idea is what they might create as art. Birds not only have vision that is excellent, but they see in the UV spectrum. They also have polarized vision, which aids in migration. So, with all the color they are able to see, I can only wonder what they might paint, sculpt, or carve. Like one of our early ancestors painting on a cave wall, would they illustrate what they saw, or even chronicle a time or journey in some un-thought of medium?
I can only wonder, and guess with the best of them. Then again, I am a daydreamer. Who knows, this may be good fodder for another project for me, or for others.