Parent Birds of a Feather

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By Joanna Tebbs Young
Circles of community

There are often blue jays in our back yard, darting from branch to branch, swooping here and there, the flash of their bright feathers eye-catching against the green background, and their not-so-pretty squawks momentarily demanding attention. They were all part and parcel of a yard teeming with urban wildlife.

This past spring, though, something changed. The blurs of blue slowed down and materialized into solid creatures stopping to partake of the seed placed at various spots around the yard. I didn’t think too much about it other than to appreciate the close proximity of their beauty. Soon, though, I realized that while the sightings were more frequent, the visitors actually only numbered two. One of our trees had been chosen as a nesting site.

Suddenly, it seemed, things became noisy. Out of nowhere a cacophony would arise, a burst of angry squawks often answered by agitated chatterings of the cat. Looking outside I would see one of the jays perched on a low branch or on top of a trellis, head cocked fully to one side, one eye trained on a cat or trespassing squirrel.

Soon this vigilance progressed to outright attacks. As the cat would attempt to walk across the yard, a flash of blue would swoop over it, causing the feline to flatten itself out on the path and then run for cover. Soon the cat was practically doing the low-crawl, keeping close to the protection of the lawn chairs whenever it needed to go outside.

In the case of a squirrel, all hell would break lose. When the rodent got too close to the nest, one of the birds would fly at it in utter fury. When the squirrel scurried away, the jay would follow. It would fly around the trunk of the tree, closer than would seem possible, in hot pursuit, beak and claws lashing out. Even when the squirrel dropped to the ground, the bird would not give up. The battle was so intense at times, I thought for sure the squirrel would be injured.

It didn’t take too long before even the humans were subject to the wrath of the colonizing birds. I only had to stand in the doorway and a jay materialized just feet away, eyeballing and yelling at me.

One morning the shrieks became manic. I looked out the window and something caught my eye, a flustered movement in the grass. There sat a round and still fluffy, almost blue, baby jay. It frantically flapped its newbie wings and managed to hop-fly to a pile of branches lying nearby. The mama or papa bird was going berserk! Flitting around as low as it could fly, crying out in fear, or warning.

As a parent who has felt at times the fear and vulnerability that comes with the responsibility of parenting a child, I instantly felt affinity with these birds. Unlike a cat or dog or other mammal, a bird cannot pick up its offspring and pluck it back to safety. This chick was a sitting duck, er, jay. I made sure none of my cats nor my dog was around and then watched in helpless anxiety. When I had to get on with my day, I left my post by the window, but not before sending out good wishes to the little family. Silence eventually descended and there was no more sign of the chick. I had to hope it had made it back to the contained safety of the nest.

The next day, the alarms went off again, and this time two little feather balls were hop-skipping around. When one flapped off the fence into the neighbor’s driveway, I raced over there to scare off any neighborhood cats who might be looking for an easy lunch. One baby was perched on an old gas can, the other on a pipe. Risking the mama’s wrath, I tried to get as close as possible to snap a photo and then left them, reluctantly, to it.

A couple of days later, I became aware of something. Actually it was nothing. It was silent, and had been for a while. The birds were gone, not to return. Whether the babies survived, I will never know.

Last week, twelve Thai boys and their soccer coach were rescued in miraculous fashion from a cave after being entombed there for two weeks. That all of them survived the entrapment, let alone the underwater rescue, is mind blowing. That the rescuers put their lives on the line, and in the case of the Navy Seal, lost his, gives hope in this tragic world. That the world sat up and took notice is proof we still have a heart.

Thirteen sets of parents almost lost their children. Taken from them by nature, uncontrollable and unpredictable. Thirteen sons were reunited with their families due to the compassion and dedication of their fellow human-beings.

But also last week, on the other side of the world hundreds of children continued to be lost to their parents. Children who were separated, not by unforeseeable acts of nature, but by their fellow human-beings. Human beings who both made this heartless decision to do this and have the ability to reunite them but who are choosing not to (or not doing everything they can to make it happen as fast as it should).

Parental love is its own force of nature. To punish or deny this primal power is to betray one’s own instincts and capacity to love. Protecting ones’ children is what parents do, no matter if they are black, brown, white or blue. They will attack creatures many times their size, they will travel long and dangerous distances; whatever it takes. They will put their own lives in danger to keep a predator at bay, be that a pesky squirrel, rising water, or violence at the hand of a corrupt government.

The predators may be big, but a parent’s heart is bigger.

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA

Joanna Tebbs Young is a freelance writer, author, and expressive writing coach living in Rutland. Email her at joanna@wisdomwithinink.com.

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