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I know we are not birds,
but sometimes there are lessons
to be learned in unexpected places.

Lessons Just for the Birds?

461 words


Can we learn good parenting from watching birds?
by Dianne Roth


My first lesson from birds took place in Yellowstone. I was sitting alone in the forest, just watching. It may have been a half an hour before I really ‘saw’ what I was seeing.

Two birds were pecking at the bark on a burned tree. One was very successful and one was making a lot of effort, but no bark was chipping off and no insects were being eaten. I noticed the second bird stop working and go up to the other, flutter its wings, and open its mouth. The first, a mother it turns out, would fill the baby’s mouth with bugs and then both would go back to work.

I watched this over and over. There was no comment from the parent on the baby’s work or its productivity. There was no instruction, no correction, and no feedback.

I’m not naive, I know we are not birds. But I suspect that if there was a bit less, “Do it this way,” or more of what I call inattentive care, there might be more creativity, innovation, and curiosity for our children.

My next lesson came in my neighbor’s yard. An adult scrub jay brought her babies to the top of the greenhouse. There was a bit of bird talk and the adult flew down to the birdbath. She was splashing when one of the babies flew down to see what was going on. The adult flew at the baby. She chased it back to the roof and gave that baby a loud ‘squawking to’. Then, went back to splashing.

I assume she told the baby, “I said, ‘Stay on the roof and I mean it. Don’t leave the roof!’” It was clear which one of them was the adult and the baby remained on the roof with its nest mates.

Two more lessons came from a fledgling stellar jay pecking in my back yard. It pecked at a big leaf that became stuck on its beak. Terrified, it tried to get away and squawked for help, but no help came. The adult was near, but knew the baby was not in danger. It was left to solve the problem itself.

Another day the fledgling became curious about my bird feeder. It flew to the top of the little house, grabbed the peak with one foot and hopped on the other foot as far as it could, trying to see inside the feeder. Every time, it would get just so far, then the anchoring foot would slip and the baby would fall. It tried over and over. There was no coaching or encouragement. Next morning it flew right into the feeder.

I know, it’s just a bird. But, maybe it gained courage and a sense of accomplishment that comes from figuring things out yourself.

Or..., maybe I’m birdbrained.


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on November 5, 2015