Nature Meditation #14 – Seeing Birds

“If you want to see birds, you must have birds in your heart.” – John Burroughs, Outside Magazine

Read the quote again. And again. Do you get it? Do you REALLY see birds?

Back when I was a teenager, I used to think my mother was bonkers. Why else would a middle-aged woman sit by a window for hours with a pair of binoculars and a book, “Guide to the Birds of the Eastern United States”, resting on a nearby table or listen to a tape called “Backyard Songbirds”? B-O-R-I-N-G. She would tell me about the birds she’d seen in the backyard when I got home from school. I think I listened. I doubt I said much. That wasn’t my world.

Then, I took an Ornithology class at OSU during my Junior Year of college. I’m sure that when I enrolled in that class, she smiled. My professor, Dr. John Barclay, opened my eyes and put birds ‘in my heart.’ I’ve never looked at them the same since.

What amazing creatures they are! Hollow bones, incredible metabolisms, the ability to communicate with one another through chirps and calls and song. And then there’s the mystery of navigation. Many of them migrate with the seasons (see this Wednesday’s Nature Connection) – but we have no idea how. Do they have an internal compass or GPS? Do they navigate with the sun or the moon and stars? How does the flock know that I’ve just filled the feeder up with seed?How do they know that the flowers have opened in the front flower bed?

And then there are the amazing differences in bird species. Size, from the smallest hummingbird to the largest eagle. Color, from the brightest parrot or tanager, to the dullest brown sparrow. And even adaptation – the ostrich that cannot fly, the penguin that loves to swim, the owl that hunts at night, the booby that has BLUE feet. Each species is outfitted to survive the best they can in a specific habitat, whether it be ocean, jungle, forest, grassland or desert. Their size, color and behavior is designed so that they can survive in that place. Sometimes, that is the only place they can survive. They have such highly specialized food or nesting needs that they can’t live anywhere else. They are unable to adapt like people can.

Data presented in 2005 from the World Conservation Union’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment notes that 12 percent of the birds in the world are now in danger of becoming extinct. The greatest culprit, habitat destruction. Forest removal, grassland cultivation, wetland development. That is the sad reality – and a future post.

The point is, birds are exquisite, amazing, unreplicable creatures. They brighten the skies and the forests, their song fills our woods, our yards and our hearts. Next time you’re in the book store, or the library, find a book about birds. If you want to learn and to grow in your knowledge about nature, start with birds. Learn to really SEE them. Your world will be much richer.

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