Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bird Watching -- Lessons in Love and Parenting

Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun and left the sky filled with their honour.

Every year at this time I am absolutely enthralled by the intelligence, instinct, devotion and endurance of the birds that fill our skies with splendour.

In addition to the joy I get from mourning doves, chickadees, blue jays, pheasants and others that visit and feed in our garden I share in the courtship, hatching and parenting of falcons, eagles, hawks, ospreys and storks around the world.

Several years ago I heard about a live camera focused on an eagle’s nest in British Columbia. I watched occasionally for a few days, when I remembered. Then, one evening returning from class, of course still daytime on the west coast, I switched on. To my horror I saw the female tearing apart the nest. Though I did not have speakers, I could feel her cries of pain and anguish. I later discovered both her eggs had fallen from the nest.

Without anthropomorphising I could understand and share her loss.

Red-tailed hawk
Since then I have become a follower of some of the many bird cams in dozens of countries that allow us to observe the wonder of courtship, laying, hatching and  caring of  these feathered beings. The miracle of love and life. I hear them ee-chupping through their courtship, have learned the small subtle differences between male and females, seen nests and scrapes constructed and prepared, watched with some admitted heart-wrenching as a falcon dived from high at 200 miles an hour, to stun an unsuspecting pigeon for the eyases’ supper.

Osprey nest in Nova Scotia
I marvel at the patient sitting, waiting for the eggs to hatch. I watch in awe as the female carefully turns each egg to benefit from the warm brood patches on her breast; as the eagle gently tucks an egg back underneath her body.

Not only have I learned a lot, my respect for our feathered friends has deepened. You will never ever hear me use the derogatory phrase ‘bird-brained’.

Falcon with her four eggs, Derby, England
We can learn a lot from them. How to form good, lasting relationships; for birds frequently do; how to be a good parent, how to cope with loss and sorrow. For not all the eggs hatch, not all the young survive. And the parent birds do suffer and grieve. The amazing journey they make, mostly by instinct as they fly south each winter; how the female peregrine falcon stays in the cold north while the male goes south, but he returns to the same mate the following year. Some pairs have been together for more than a dozen years. That’s better than many marriages.

Eagles in Maine
For several years I benefitted from the knowledge of a lady in the Netherlands named Froona. She loved peregrine falcons and was a wealth of information about them; introducing me to locations world-wide to watch them in snow, driving rain and wind, all with the same determination to protect their young, rear them and prepare to let them go. For rarely do the young return, they find their own nests or scrapes. Sadly Froona died in 2009. Her passion remains on her blog, and in my mind.

Storks nest in Germany
From storks in Europe, where people encourage them to nest on their roofs, believing the birds bring prosperity, to eyries high above rivers and roads, to stony scrapes on high-rise buildings to ocean-side pines, these magnificent birds offer me so much each spring.

Soon, too soon, the white and gray bundles of fluff, find their wings, begin to explore outside the nesting place, unsteady at first, then with increasing confidence and curiosity; feathers replace the down. Come June eyases in many locations are banded, eaglets and red tailed hawks flex their great wing spans, find the delights of the skies, soaring, circling, doing what they were created for, carefully taught by loving parents. Eventually they fledge and fly away. The sense of loss, of not having them in my life remains for weeks.

Rochester, N.Y.

Newly-hatched eaglets

You can Google any of these bird species, followed by ‘live cam’ or similar wording to share in the joy and learning experiences.

Photos taken from various webcams

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