Monday, July 18, 2011


You worry about a bird that doesn't fly.

I saw this little fellow perched on a potted plant in our garden yesterday and I thought - "let me just run inside and grab the camera," knowing he would be long gone by the time I got back.

When I returned, though, there he still was. Breathing rapidly, obviously frightened and distressed. This wasn't a normal bird, I thought. Something was wrong.

Or is it only mothers who see such a sight and immediately think: "Catastrophe!"???

This mother did. I assumed that death was imminent. I stroked its little back and tried to think of soothing things to murmur.

No one else seemed too concerned.

Vijay, for example, was all calm curiosity - first from a distance, and then coming in close to see what was happening..

It was when he brought Lakshi that I began to think maybe I'd gotten the wrong impression.

Her first response was like mine - worried, holding back, anxious:

yet quickly turning to interest:

and then delight, almost recognition:

When my friend Nicola told me later that one of the biggest problems fledglings have is well-meaning humans thinking they are ill and trying to rescue them, many things fell into place.

In the heat of the moment, for example, it hadn't registered, but each time I got close to the little bird, a racket of squawking would start up from the other side of the garden. Nicola told me that mother birds are always close by, hovering anxiously, trying to protect their newly-launched offspring. If they sense a predator (that would be me) they set up a distraction, hoping to draw the danger to themselves.

And all that quivering and heavy breathing?

Perfectly natural if you consider what this little bird is about to do: leave home for the first time, fly off alone, commit to finding his own food, be a grown up. Daunting. Shocking. Overwhelming.

No wonder he's a bit anxious. No wonder, times ten, his mother is flapping and scolding frantically off on the side. Yet this is the only way it happens in nature. Pushed out of the nest, the fledgling must fend for himself or die.

I like to find "sermons in stones, and good in everything," but this one is a stretch.

Today, Lakshi and Vijay, tempted by an older child, ran out of the garden and took off for Latika Vihar without telling their Mom. She came down to check on them a few moments later and found them missing. Frantic, she set out searching and caught up with them fifteen heart-pounding minutes later, safely at their destination.

Sometimes the fledglings decide for themselves, long before they are really ready or capable.

Also today, I talked with a grown woman whose parents are still making all her decisions - whom she will marry, where she will work, how late she can stay out. Today's discussion was about the trouble she had gotten into by staying at a friend's house past nine o'clock.

Sometimes the fledglings opt to stay in the nest, long after they should be out on their own.

Nature's relentless time-keeping (DING! Out of the nest! DING! Fly or die!) doesn't suit most of us. We are left with this extreme risk: the balancing act we constantly maintain between love and safe-keeping. Breathless at the beauty and precarious nature of childhood, we would do anything - anything - to protect the ones we love. Yet without that inner Mama Bird, prepared to watch the little ones fall down from great heights, we could end up protecting them so much they forget how to fly.

I took the above photos of the fledgling from my verandah. And the view was a safe one, limited by the walls of the garden. But when I came into the garden myself, to catch him from another angle, I got this one:

. . . shining eager eye and all. Posed against a rainbow, this bird looked totally different. Not pathetic anymore, but poised - gathering strength and courage for the inevitable next step.

When I came out an hour later, he was gone.


Peter Phun said...

Hi Jo,
Don't you love how you sometimes don't even have to leave the confines of your home to find great subjects? That is a blessing indeed. I especially love the message behind the pictures. Thanks for sharing.

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

Thanks, Peter. YES, I love that about this life. I am holding on to that as a comfort for my old age when - as I see now with the Biddies - it will be harder to get out and about. There will still be so much to see and to think about and to photograph!

Anuradha said...

Roots and Wigns Thats all we can give our children

Beautiful snaps-beautiful article