Why do birds appeal to us?
Most people enjoy the sight of birds, even people who have never been active birdwatchers.
Although birds are less like us in appearance and habits than our fellow mammals, birds undeniably hold a special place in our hearts.
One reason that birds capture our imaginations is that they can fly, while we remain trapped here on earth.
What child hasn’t watched a bird fly overhead and dreamt of being up there in the sky flying alongside?
What adults have not, at one time or another, wished that they could take wing and fly away from all of their everyday troubles and cares?
Birds can soar overhead and they can also cover great distances. They are privy to a “bird’s eye view” of a single building or a park, or an entire city or landscape, making them a perfect metaphor for obtaining a fresh perspective on a situation, or for taking a larger view of an issue.
Birds often symbolize other things, as well, such as human character traits and qualities.
There’s the proud peacock, the noble eagle, the thieving magpie, squabbling crows, and billing and cooing love birds. Gliding swans are the perfect picture of grace and elegance in motion. The hawk is a symbol of war, the dove a symbol of peace.
What else attracts us to birds?
For example, those small, round, brown sparrows are homey, comforting and familiar to those of us who live in temperate climates. They are our backyard friends and neighbors.
American cardinals and blue jays are highly colored, cheerful sights to behold on gray days, from the tips of their tail feathers to the fanciful crests on their heads. They are a bit more exotic, yet they are still familiar backyard friends.
Birds also come in a great variety of shapes and sizes, which further adds to their appeal. We can relate to them, in so far as they, and we, have two eyes, one mouth and bilateral symmetry.
Yet, they are also very unlike us. They have protruding beaks, from the sparrow’s tiny jabbing beak to the toucan’s enormous appendage. They have wings, more unlike human arms than those of other mammals, or even of reptiles.
Yes, birds are beautiful to look at, but the beauty of birds is not confined to the visual aspects of shape and color alone, because birds also fill the air with music.
They seem to offer us their song simply to entertain us, and they ask for nothing in return. Like a garden bursting with colorful flowers, the fantastic colors and songs of birds seem frivolous and out of place in a world full of harsh realities.
We can listen in on their free concerts and derive pleasure and serenity from the experience. We can also be amused when a few species of birds even mimic our own speech.
Another characteristic of birds that we humans respond to is the fact that they build nests.
They seem so industrious and we watch with wonder as each type of bird builds its own species-specific nest, ranging from a simple assemblage of twigs to an intricately woven masterpiece of craftsmanship.
“Nest” is such a cozy word. Birds build their cozy nests, care for their young, and raise their families, all in the course of a single spring or summer.
We observe and marvel at a parent bird’s countless trips to and from the nest to diligently feed the helpless chicks. Birds provide us with fine role models for parenting.
Yes, birds are homebodies during the nesting season, but they also migrate.
Birds are free to come and go and many cover vast distances each year, as they travel between their summer and their winter homes.
We envy them, too, for they are free to go beyond mere political boundaries and to cross entire continents.
We up north are sorry to see them part each autumn and we are heartened to see them return each spring. The return of such birds as the swallows signals the return of spring, with its promise of birth and renewal.
Each spring we are able to welcome them back into our midst, for nearly everywhere that humans live, birds live also. Birds cover the earth.
There are the ducks and moorhens of rural ponds. There are birds who live in the forests. There are birds in the mountains and birds in the deserts. The forbidding oceans have their hardy puffins and pelicans. Even frozen, icy places have their own birds, the lovable penguins.
Birds adapt to so many different habitats and situations, including human environments.
The often ignored pigeon is a beautiful bird. (I have cared for and been grateful to have known many individual pigeons over the years.)
Other bird species may be less tolerant of such disturbances and avoid the prying eyes of humans.
Wherever they choose to live, birds remain symbols of untamed nature, surviving despite man’s interference with their habitats.
They remain proud and free to the present day. They are also a living link to the mysterious and fascinating history of life on our planet, as birds are the surviving heirs to the dinosaurs.
One look at unfeathered baby birds, with their over-sized beaks and feet, and it is easy to see the dinosaur in them.
Birds represent the perfect blend of beauty, strength, grace and endurance, from the cuteness of a tiny sparrow to the majesty of an imposing raptor. Birds fill both the eye and the ear with beauty.
We enjoy them. We admire them. Sometimes we envy them. They add appreciably to the quality of our lives and to the diversity of life on earth and the world would be a smaller, sadder, emptier place without them.