Saturday, August 06, 2016

Jonny Rook and His Offspring

Yesterday we went to the Moy Field Sports Fair.  The weather forecast promised a dry morning with rain later in the afternoon.

Dry? We should have checked the weather for the previous day.  Not so dry, methinks. It was saturated underfoot. The paths between rows of tents selling wares were churned up mud.  The small margins of grass just alongside the tents that weren’t mud were soggy. It was a welly wearing event and I don’t have any wellies. I’m not one that forges ahead confidently in mud or wet grass.  Every footstep is cautiously tested. I have fallen too often on dry ground for wet stuff not to be a hazard. Yes, I minced delicately along, my socks soon wet in my trainers. The clouds that had threatened for most of the morning broke in the early afternoon for some warm sunshine.  I fooled myself into thinking it was drying out just a little.

The show arena was the just behind the food tent.  Food had been macaroni cheese and chips – not really enough of either to justify the price they charged. The tea was hot, though, and with the tea bag left in, strong too.

Something to do with birds of prey was being exhibited in the arena. 

The first bird to take to the stage was a very young owl. Not yet at the flying stage, he was a brancher, out of the nest hopping along the branch but not yet up to flying. It was his debut appearance. I learned a lot about owls. Their eyes don’t move in their sockets. Their ears do all the hard work.  When they fly silently it has nothing to do with sneaking up on their prey unheard. It’s all about them not being able to hear the sound of their own wings beating and being a distraction to hearing their prey on the ground.  Put food by their feet and they are unable to see it and feel it out with their feet. Interesting!  He looked quite big and fluffy and ran around a lot with his wings outstretched.

The next bird was an adult owl. He was quite happy to fly from perch to hand and back to perch as long as he had the wind behind him. He didn’t like flying into the wind, but was prepared to make the sacrifice for a treat.

The third and final bird was quite a rarity – one of only a few hundred in the country. I can’t remember the name of the bird or the country of origin. Quick google – the caracara from the Falkland Islands that goes by the alias Jonny Rook. Where according to the commentary owls are not as wise as they are given credit for, this bird was the Einstein of the bird world. He was also the boss of the bird criminal underworld – a nasty piece of work.

Where owls and other bird species reared their young responsibly, making sure they had taught them the skills to be successful hunters, these caracaras were not so conscientious. It was all down to the food supply. In a place where the food supply is limited, these birds had a “me-first” mentality. They were not food sharers. When they had chicks they reared them. They didn’t always take dead stuff to the nest but watched to see how cleanly, or not, the live stuff could be dispatched and eaten by the chick. Once the chick did that it was kicked out of the nest, violently, to fend for itself. Juvenile birds would form a gang, maybe eight or nine birds, and egg each other on to meanness.

They were not trusting birds. They had found out the hard way that mum and dad couldn’t be trusted.  The gang they flew with couldn’t be trusted either. It was every caracara for themselves.

I got to thinking about good parenting and bad parenting. The owls were good parents, taking time to make sure their offspring had the right tools to succeed. The owls had time to grow and learn how to fly. Mum and dad didn’t trip up junior as he hopped along the branch. He flew when he was ready to fly and not before.

The caracaras were not good parents. It was a practical move to protect a limited food supply but junior didn’t get taught stuff, he had to learn it for himself in a very hostile world.

I have been thinking about human parents. There are plenty of parents that follow the owl way of doing things. The offspring they send off into the world are well equipped for whatever challenges they face, and they have all the tools necessary to be successful.

However, there are a lot of parents that are more like Jonny Rook. For the birds they are simply being practical in kicking their youngsters out of the nest to fend for themselves. Is there a kind way to do it if you are worried about your own food supply? They end up creating the next generation of caracaras that don’t know how to trust anyone or anything. These are birds that opt for the pre-emptive strike – hit before the other bird hits you. Strike first, ask questions later. Juvenile caracara birds learn how to fend for themselves at an impossibly early age, hang around in gangs that terrorise a neighbourhood and don’t trust authority figures because of their parents. Perhaps part of the problem lies in the food poverty that the caracaras live in. If there was an abundance of food, would they be better parents?

So much of what happens in nature has a people-application. How the next generation of people turns out depends very much on us and how we treat them. It’s not the government’s job, or the responsibility of teachers to take over the job of raising children. It’s not only the parent’s job either to equip their children with the right tools. It’s a communal thing – all of us together involved.

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