In appreciation of the bird life around us

Living in Balance
By Jenipher Appleton

A warm July morning on Blue Heron Bay, Muskoka. Half an hour past dawn. The lake: a sheet of glass in the rising mist. A nine-year-old girl ambles on the beach, welcoming the sun’s rays as they kiss her chestnut hair and warm the sand between her toes. The belted kingfisher winds his clock as he swoops to claim an unsuspecting yellow perch. A great blue heron lands in the reeds, poised to spear his breakfast. From deeper in the woods, the veery chimes his haunting cadence. A sandpiper hops on stilt-like legs at water’s edge, unaware of the child observer.
These early childhood scenes served to charm the child into a healthy appreciation for the diversity and beauty of the natural environment. Children need experiences in the outdoors that will instill respect for birds and animals. Family camping trips, spending time at the cottage and hiking on the countless nature trails in Ontario can reap great rewards for parents and children. Unfortunately, not enough of us have an appreciation for the delicacy and uncertainty of the balance upon which the survival of many wild species depends. Simply having a decent field guide to the birds in your house can help to build interest in getting to know their various field marks and behaviours.
On the other hand, we, as a species, have an enormous infatuation with birds of all kinds on a quite different level. We use their names in our language daily. People are considered to have a ‘hawk-eye’ or an ‘eagle-eye’ or a ski jumper may ‘soar like an eagle’ (remember Eddie the Eagle?). An old woman may be called an ‘old crow’ or worse, an ‘old biddy’ (hen). Men or women can be ‘as wise as an owl’ or ‘crazier than a coot’ (waterfowl) or just be an ‘old coot.’ You can be a ‘silly goose’ or a ‘turkey.’ You may use Dove soap for its gentleness. We also use colours that represent birds: teal green, canary yellow or raven black, to name a few. When someone retires for the night, they may have ‘gone to roost.’ You may have been ‘pigeon-holed’ or may have your own ‘pigeon-hole’ in the office. Sports teams bear names like; orioles, seahawks, bluejays, blackhawks, pee-wees, red-wings, etc. etc…
Without birds, we would be overrun with insects. Bird song is the first indicator that dawn is approaching. The rooster wakes the farmer still. The cessation of bird song is a good indicator that a storm is approaching and the first sound to resume as the storm passes. There are birds all around. Listen, observe and appreciate.

A recent sighting
On Queen Street, just north of Ailsa Craig, Fergus the Labrador and I managed to inadvertently flush out a large flock of wild turkeys. They must have been feeding in the roadside ditch because as we passed by, three turkey hens and all of their fledglings erupted in an explosive kafuffle. The young ones were able to fly a short distance into the lower branches of some pines. Once the parents realized that their offspring had made it to safety, each female then flew easily to the tops of the trees, vocalizing as they went.
It was indeed an entertaining sight to behold. You never know what you might see around southwestern Ontario if you keep your eyes peeled.