FOR THE BIRDS
After a glorious day the wind has shifted back to the north, and we are back to hanging on, glumly waiting for spring. Sleet patters against the pane, and outside the windswept world has gone backwards to white.
However the birds aren’t waiting. As the older children waited hunched, looking down the wet street for the delayed school bus, a gang of robins hopped, also hunched, over the whitened playground. The kids wanted to talk about TV, and didn’t much want to listen when I told them there is a new song overlaying the old. However I listened. The shrill peeps of winter chickadees and titmice, and the taunting “nyah nyah” of winter nuthatches, had been drowned out by the more lavish spring songbirds. Despite the snow a robin sang. It started me thinking.
With spring so delayed I started wondering how the birds were handling life. In many ways they are creatures of amazing instinct, and have a problem with changes in routine.
When the swallows returned to Capistrano on Saint Joseph’s day, what would they do if they found six feet of snow and no bugs to eat? Would they have the brains to turn around and head back south until the snow melted, or are they so imprinted by instinct they would stay, attempt to build nests, and starve?
I remember my seventh grade science teacher, a strict and stone faced old lady of seventy appropriately named “Miss Marble,” had a soft spot for birds. I recall being surprised to discover, when kept after class for causing her to glower at me several times in a single hour, to learn she actually could smile. All you needed to do was bring up the subject of birds.
(Miss Marble seldom needed to rebuke a student, instead merely becoming deathly silent and staring at the malcontent with her eyes half closed. We boys called her withering, unnerving look, “the hairy eyeball,” and, because the father of one boy had links to the New York Times, and as the first appearance of “the hairy eyeball” (as a phrase indicating, “an expression of disapproval”) appeared in the New York Times in 1963, just before Miss Marble retired, I like to think “the hairy eyeball” originated in my town, and was our boyish contribution to the English language.)
Besides the way her mean face would gentle, and her eyes would sparkle with delight when talking of birds, I also remember the sorrow in her face as she described a spring in her childhood (1895) when the bluebirds did not return, because so many had been killed by a cold snap in the south:
“Thousands of Bluebirds perished in the storms and bitter cold which lasted for a week or more; their frozen bodies were found everywhere– in barns and other outhouses where the poor things had vainly sought shelter; in the fields and woods and even along the roadsides. In the localities affected they were almost exterminated. To many people it was a sad spring in those regions.”
There are other reports of bluebirds frozen to their nests by other storms.
These incidents suggest that the avian instinct to migrate north, and build nests at a certain time, may be more powerful than the common sense we mammals (sometimes) possess.
This topic came up recently as a friend and I discussed wind turbines killing eagles. My friend insisted birds could learn, but I was not so sure. Also, in the case of the endangered whooping crane, there are not many birds to begin with, and some fear the entire population will be wiped out before they can learn to adapt.
I really do wonder why we are protecting businessmen rather than whooping cranes. The comeback of the whooping crane has been a triumph of environmentalism. Their population was down to 21 birds in 1941, however the wild flock’s population was back up to 266 by 2007, new “wild” flocks numbering roughly 80 had been started in other areas, and 145 lived in captivity. This triumph has involved millions of dollars, and a number of “learning experiences” some might call “blunders.”
One blunder involved the fact whooping cranes lay two eggs, but usually only one chick survives. Therefore one egg was snitched and put in the nest of a sandhill crane. These adopted chicks were raised, however, because they had imprinted on sandhill crane parents, they refused to mate with other whooping cranes, and their population died out.
Another blunder involved teaching young whooping cranes a new migration route, leading them with an ultra light. There was a collision between an ultra light and a crane. The crane lived, healed, and eventually migrated, however it was only at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, for a single bird.
The cost of raising and reintroducing a single whooping crane into the marshes of areas outside the last remaining wild population in Texas is roughly $100,000 per bird. Then you have the blunder of a Louisiana boy, out hunting in the marshes, who sees this strange, new, and very huge bird winging by and blasts it from the sky, and furthermore unwisely has his picture taken holding up this giant bird (and posts it on line.) He could have faced time in jail and an enormous fine, but fortunately a merciful judge judged him, and his fine was a single dollar (plus court costs of $500.) Rather than jail he got probation.
Having been poor, I happen to know court costs of $500 are no laughing matter, however there are some environmentalists who will pay zero to raise a boy in a bayou, but $100,000 to raise a crane. They were absolutely furious “the kid got off so easy.”
These same people are now placed in a quandary, because the wind turbines they support may kill the whooping cranes they support.
If you are going to get so angry at a kid with a shotgun in a swamp, how can you not get angry at a fat cat erecting a wind turbine in the flyway or by the habitat of an endangered species? However, if you are a fat cat, and have political connections, you can get something called an ITP.
ITP stands for “Incidental Take Permit.” What it means is that if you build a wind turbine right where it will kill a whooping crane, and it kills a whooping crane, you cannot be fined, and you face no jail time.
Why on earth not? Because you are “saving the earth” when you kill whooping cranes. (And eagles, many other birds, and bats.)
Never mind that building a wind turbine involves using “rare earths,” which involves open pit mines that scar landscapes in third world nations.
Never mind that a wind turbine’s “carbon footprint,” once you add up all the building and power lines and “back-up power” (for when the wind isn’t blowing) is far more than a coal fired plant.
Never Mind that there is no way to store the extra energy, on windy days. Never mind that, on calm days, the very fossil fuel plants you supposedly replaced must do the dirty work.
Wind power is a lovely idea. I looked into getting a wind turbine for the farm, when I found myself in charge, but the more I studied the subject the more I was repelled.
Wind power is a lovely idea, in the same way the Flying Cloud was a lovely ship, compared to a tramp steamer. However lovely clipper ships involved a lot of dead sailors. Ugly tramp steamers involve sailors who, for the most part, don’t die.
Not that environmentalists really care about their fellow man. Guys like me, who have flipped their burgers and cleaned their toilets, canned their herring and built their houses, working in factories that made the studs for their blue jeans, the labels for their mustard, the ball bearings for their bikes, and the “security pins” for the plastic things to discourage shoplifting, when they shop, (and so on,) are just guys who are “excess population.”
What they really care about is for the birds.
These people make it very hard for me to love my fellow man. All the religions of the world suggest we should love our neighbor, (and ignore the idiot priests who preach war against neighbors,) however these environmentalists prefer whooping cranes to humanity. Rather than love their neighbor, even when their neighbor is just a kid in a swamp with a shotgun, their love is for the birds.
I too love the birds, just as Saint Francis did, but Saint Francis also loved humanity. Not that I am Saint Francis, but I’m embarrassed when fellow bird-lovers behave like they are the antithesis of Saint Francis.
The environmentalists are not standing united, but are starting to fall divided. The “wind turbine” group is fighting the “whooping crane” group.
Why are environmentalists not standing united? The answer is simple. In order to stand united you must love your neighbor; you must love your fellow man; you must never, never ever deem any person “an over-population.”
If you love your fellow man, it is impossible to call any number an “over-population.” Even if the world population soared to fifty billion, every single person would be worthy of your love.
I exaggerate to make my point, (and invoke “Godwin’s Law,”) but I assert that, in spiritual terms, as soon as you deem another segment of the population unworthy of love, (because they don’t care for birds,) you are deeming them unworthy of living, and have reduced yourself to the level of a Genocidal Killer.
In other words, there are some bird watchers out there who, in spiritual terms, are as bad as Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot. Just as Hitler murdered lots of Germans, claiming he loved Germans, and Pol Pot murdered lots of Cambodians, claiming he loved Cambodia, there are bird watchers who would murder bird watchers. There are even whooping crane watchers who would murder whooping cranes, for the sake of wind turbines.
This confusion would automatically cease, if people dropped hate for love. The problem is that people lack faith, and expect the worst of their fellow man. They don’t believe people can learn, and can do the right thing.
In the case of over population, the so called “population bomb” has not happened. My generation is called “The Baby Boom” because, after the horror of World War Two, there was an urge to replace the lost population, and also to have the big, happy families that were not possible during the Great Depression. However the boom did not last. In the same way, thirty years ago the average Mexican family had six or seven children, but now they have only two. All the charts and graphs, which demonstrated a “population bomb”, were based on a lack of faith that people could learn and do the right thing, however people have proved that lack of faith is incorrect.
Birds may indeed be creatures of instinct, liable to “imprint” and then to be unable to escape that “imprint,” but humanity is not the same. Humanity may fall to the level of beasts at times, however the simple use of that expression, “level of beasts,” indicates humanity knows of an alternative. People are endowed of a mysterious thing called “a heart,” and can and have responded to love in ways that have totally transformed societies.
As the children trooped into the yellow school bus, and the bus moaned off through the sleet, a robin sang from a fencepost, and a cardinal from the top of a tree.