Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Lessons from the Birds
Sometimes I have to remember that my observations of the natural world need not go beyond my own yard. Like the pair of crows that I've been getting to know since moving in last fall. Though there are plenty of other crows around, this pair seems to have claimed the area closest to my home, one was even peaking in a window yesterday. Would it seem odd that I can recognize this individual pair - I mean crows all look the same, don't they? Well, at a casual glance, perhaps, but upon closer examination they do have individual characteristics. But it's not the physical aspects that make this pair easy to identify for me. It's their distinctive personalities. Yes, crows have individual personalities. Honest. The way this pair interact with me has made them stick out of the crowd. That coupled with the fact that we're neighbors, so to speak, and over time we are just getting to know each other much like human neighbors who don't speak the same language might get to know each other. I've even started to wonder if this fine feathered couple will be nesting nearby and if I'll get a chance to meet their offspring later this summer.
I had this happen several years back at another house in another city and with another species. This time it was a pair of chickadees among all the other chickadees that visited the feeder in my yard and this time I had more help with identifying the individuals. One of the pair was partially leucistic, off white where most chickadees would be black to dark grey. It stood out from the beginning and I got to know its feeding habits, the way it interacted with other chickadees and its overall personality. When it showed up one day and started showing off to the chickadee that had showed up with it, I caught on that this leucistic bird was a male and he was showing off his miraculous food supply. She must have been impressed because they both became more scarce, the male's visits to my yard were focused and quick, go straight to the feeder, grab some seeds and fly off, repeat. Until one day they showed up looking a bit worn around the edges and with a full brood of fluffy chickadee chicks just fledged from the nest. This time the male patiently, well sort of patiently, tried to show the chicks how to feed at the feeder on their own between giving in to their incessant chatter and wing flapping. The female flew from the feeder to one gaping mouth to the feeder and back to another gaping mouth.
I watched the chicks grow up, lose their fluffiness and blend into the crowd of chickadees that frequented my feeder. All except for one. One of those chicks had managed to fly into the back door one day and I had spent quite a while holding it in my palm keeping watch over it while it waited for the world to stop spinning and the ability to see straight to come back. Have you ever seen a chickadee with crossed eyes? I have. Eventually it shook itself out, tested its wings and flew up to a nearby branch that hung close to the back porch. From there it looked around at the world and back at me briefly before setting off for a longer flight. I often wondered if this chickadee was the same one who so bravely flew in to eat seed from my palm without a bit of hesitancy not long after that. One bird would fly right in, light gently on my hand, grab a seed, take the time to get it just right in its beak and then fly a short distance to a branch to work the heart out of the shell. Other chickadees saw this and did their best to be brave, but they were always more hesitant and far quicker to grab the seed and run.
The leucistic male continued to show up and even brought another brood to the feeder the next year. Eventually he didn't show up and it was obvious he was missing. His bright feathers among his darker fellows, the way he would dance around on the branches seeming to show off to his mate and young - his presence was missed and I still remember him and his offspring with fondness.
These little relationships we form if even for a short time with these wild creatures around us can leave our hearts touched. It can help us to realize that these birds are intelligent individuals with distinct personalities that stand out if only you take the time to notice, to get to know them. It can help us to see how important they are to the world around us and that can help inspire us to live in a manner that gives back to the earth just as much or more than we take. That is a lesson I willingly learn from my feathered friends for as long as they will grace me with their presence.