Birds: Humanity’s Barometer

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Jack Miner has been dead for more than half a century. Called the “Father of Conservation” for his pioneering work banding ducks and geese and in providing a sanctuary for migrating waterfowl, a statement attributed to him still rings as true today as it did then: “If I can get a child to love a bird, that child will love his fellow man.”

God in His infinite wisdom knew what He was doing when He placed birds on the Earth. Some birds were placed here for man to harvest; to allow humankind to experience the essence of nature in the harvest; to allow us to experience the essence of nature in the hunting of wild fowl; for the bounty they afford on the dining table. Others are here purely for ornamentation; for their ability to stir the senses with sweet trills and warbles; for the sheer fun and enjoyment afforded by spending a few quiet moments simply watching birds do what birds do.

I am indeed fortunate. My father taught my brother, sister, and me the thrill and suspense of hunting ducks when we were just youngsters. Watching a pair of wood ducks come barreling down through the cypresses at dawn is something that still gives me goose bumps.

Later, hunting doves and quail would be added to my menu of fun things to do outdoors. In recent years, the pursuit of the wild turkey has been a consuming passion.

As much as I enjoy hunting various species of wild game birds, another childhood experience has enabled my fascination with birds to be more than one dimensional. As much as I enjoy hunting, the gentle sport of bird watching, something I learned from a wise and sensitive mother, has given me untold hours of delight.

For ten successive Aprils, my wife, Kay, and I watched in wonder as a male painted bunting visited our backyard feeder, occasionally joined by a shy female. They were predictable – tax time meant painted bunting time.

It has been more than 10 years since I last saw a painted bunting. I find a measure of solace, albeit small, in hearing from friends who report that they are enjoying watching painted buntings on their feeders.

As a consolation prize, my feeder is dotted with a splash of color – the bright vermilion of the male cardinal; the metallic blue of indigo buntings and last week the black, white and red combination of rose-breasted grosbeaks passing through.

Down on the creek there is color. Yellow predominates. Shy, secretive hooded warblers pop up on a branch overhead and just as quickly flit away. Prothonotary warblers, their yellow as brilliant as melted butter, skim low over the water flying from tree bole to cypress knee.

My gaze has not missed the nesting birds around the yard. On the pond in the pasture across the road, I once watched a pair of wood ducks rearing half a dozen fledglings. The babies followed their mother over the pond’s surface, darting like wind-blown thistle down.

In a box on the utility pole, four soft blue eggs of the bluebird wait until the time is right for delicate pink hungry baby birds to hatch.

Kay and I had the privilege of observing six little tufted titmice emerge from speckled eggs in another box. We watched as the parents diligently fed them until fully feathered, they were ready to leave the nest. Our goal was get to see when the baby birds fledged. Unless you have your eyes trained on the box during the two minute span when they leave the nest, you’re out of luck. Unfortunately, we missed the show because they left one brief moment when we were not watching.

“One key to the human heart is in wild creatures.” Jack Miner said that too.

I wish I could have known him.

Glynn Harris can be reached via email at hominy@suddenlink.net.