What I Have Learnt From Birds
The Wonders of Birding
Time was when this article would have been on birds of the unfeathered kind. But time does move on and so must we. So this one really is about birds and what they have taught me.
Being Beautiful Isn't Easy
Much as being plain-looking carries a burden (of sorts), so does being beautiful. It may not be so obvious but it takes humility, awareness and effort for a beautiful woman to be level-headed and down-to-earth. The peacock, striking as it is, carries its huge bouquet of pretty feathers which allow it to fly no higher than a tree for no more than maybe fifty metres.
Compare this with the demoiselle crane and the bar-headed geese which fly upwards of 20,000 feet to cross the Great Himalayas to reach their wintering grounds in India. They are much better fliers without the weight of lovely feathers.
Nature's Gifts Are Evenly Distributed
Although at times it may not seem like it, nature’s gifts are fairly evenly distributed. You have to see the resplendent colours on the white-breasted kingfisher and then hear its screechy call to realize the truth of this statement. Conversely, listen to the multitude of notes the oriental magpie robin sings. And the plain-looking dresses it wears - simple black and white, sometimes with a touch of grey.
With Courage You Can Take on Challenges Bigger Than You Thought Possible
Often when I look up at the sky, I see birds attacking other birds much larger than themselves. A crow will take on a scavenger kite. A lapwing will dive above a dog if it feels its nest is threatened. Many birds build their nests near the Black Drongo’s, knowing its presence will be a protective shield. The Drongo is known to take on larger adversaries fearlessly.
It Pays to Be Deceptive Sometimes
The red-wattled lapwing is a master of deception. “Did you do it? Did you do it?” it asks, especially if a predator is near its nest.
The lapwing’s survival technique involves misleading a predator into believing its nest is far away from where it actually is.
Avoid Value Judgements – Some Believe in Fidelity, Some Don’t
The fidelity of the Sarus crane is legendary. In fact, the Mughal Emperor Jahangir writes of the Sarus' lifelong bond in his opus Jahangirnama. On the other hand, the promiscuity of the sage grouse, some sandpipers and hummingbirds is well known. The Baya Weaver and its intricate nest tell a fascinating story. The male builds a nest after which a number of females inspect it. One of them finally approves and occupies the nest, and copulation occurs. Subsequently the male builds another nest and repeats the exercise with another lot of females. That is rather exhausting if you ask me. The Baya would have been luckier if he could have managed with the one nest. Construction and sex, construction and sex , construction and sex - ah, life can be quite demanding for some!
Birds like the Ruff have one-night stands. Others mate for a season, still others for no valid reason. Does that sound like people we know? Many of us pass judgement when a person's value system differs from ours. It takes all sorts to make the world is what birds tell me. Live and let live.
Respect Cross-cultural Differences
The owl is considered a wise bird in western folklore. In fact, the prestigious Defence Services Staff College at Wellington in South India has an owl as its emblem. Chosen by the British, as it was. But in India, the colloquial for owl is ullu. If you were to say “Ullu bana diya” it would mean you have made a fool of someone.
In fact, if you read the first verse of Edward Lear’s poem “The Owl and the Pussy Cat”, you will realize how wise the owl is – singing praises to his love and also ensuring the availability of the good things in life.
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'
So two lessons from the owl – one is that various cultures see the same thing in different ways. We should respect other cultures as we do our own. The second, courtesy Edward Lear, shows the way to marital bliss.
Never Give Up
Perhaps you have observed how birds build their nests so painstakingly, carrying twigs, straws and other building materials in their beaks. Ever so often, because of man or nature, their work comes undone and they have to start all over again. You never hear them complain or bemoan their fate. They return to the task with renewed vigour. This is perhaps the greatest lesson I have learnt from watching birds.
With grateful thanks to Sally's Trove for her editorial assistance.
More by this Author
Some years back, we were living in a mofussil town, very close to the geographical heart of India. Within under- arm stone-throwing distance of our house, was a temple. It was small and unprepossessing,...
Not so long ago, just 50 years to be exact, my father was posted at Poona, then a small Army cantonment town four hours away from the mind-numbing madness of the big city of Bombay. Poona is now Pune and Bombay has...
India, my wise friend wrote the other day, is a land of contrasts and contradictions. It is a land of peace and war, of love and hate and many other emotions. You can spend a lifetime and be none the wiser in trying to...