Birds ‘n Bees

The Birds & the Bees

Feb. 13, 2012

I noticed a distinctive and familiar but seldom seen shape in the top of a huge, leafless February tree.  The Coopers Hawk is one of the two smaller North American species of accipiter.  Accipiters are true hawks, with short, rounded wings and a long tail.  These birds are common enough in most American cities because of their love for trees, but catching sight of them is not an every day event due to their reclusive, elusive nature.  Needless to say I took the opportunity to do some hawk watching.

Lest you fear this rambling will never come back to something RELEVANT to those of you who are NOT fanatical about raptors, be reassured my intent is to provide both some insight into these amazing birds as well as a useful message you can use as you move through your day, wherever and whenever you are.

This was just before 8 am as I drove to work this morning.  The sun was up, but low and hidden by clouds.  Looking through the binoculars, I could see immediately this was an adult.  Raptors spotted in February usually are.  A large percentage of winged predators hatched the previous year don’t make it through the winter because of inexperience.  Prey species are by now highly skilled at avoiding predators.  So a raptor in immature plumage seen at this time of year would be unusual.

It occurred to me this bird is all business.  Life for a raptor is a daily struggle this time of year and it must eat most every day to survive.  By using all of its instincts and past experience the hawk can secure the nutrition it needs to live, especially in winter.

There in the tree it sat, watching everything below and around with great alertness.  Its head swiveled from side to side, noticing every movement, constantly searching for an opportunity that, with appropriate efforts in strategy, stealth, speed and agility, might result in a meal.

Suddenly the bird’s posture changed.  It lowered its head, looking intently in a single direction and I wondered what was happening.  I looked up from my optics and saw another Coopers Hawk had flown past and was heading away across a field at about 150 feet above ground level.  I watched it fly out of sight about a minute later when, at the far side of the field, a couple of small flocks of starlings rallied up to the same altitude and made sure they weren’t on the menu.  The hawk disappeared in the trees without any real change in general flight pattern – a series of quick flaps followed by several seconds of gliding before another round of flapping.  I concluded the two hawks may turn out to be a pair, but their reproductive cycle has not yet begun, and cooperative nesting efforts won’t begin for another month or so.  The posture change was, if I’m correct, unfriendly.  Until these two are on the same team, they will view each other as rivals working the same territory and competing for food.

If they are to be parents together, the attitude will change dramatically in a month or so.  They will either remodel or build from scratch a nest for their family.  They will mate and produce fertile eggs.  The female will do most of the incubating and the male will spell her for short periods.  The baby hawks will hatch in early summer or late spring.  The adults will work together in an amazingly complex and cooperative effort to raise them.  Toward the end of this phase, the young hawks will sit in the trees surrounding the nest, waiting for the parents to return with freshly caught food.  Eventually, the young hunters begin to chase their own food and the family group disperses.  It’s all part of the big picture.

What’s the big picture for us?  We’re an entirely different species, but we share some of the same challenges.  Our first responsibilities are the basics:  Food, water, shelter and clothing.  If we don’t have those things in the right general proportions, nothing else is really possible.  Thankfully, most of us are able to seek the next  level of needs:  security and safety.  If we are safe and sound, we may enjoy some belongingness or community, even if it’s a single friend or perhaps a group of friends.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs include esteem and self-actualization at the top of the pyramid, and there are many who have criticized Maslow’s famous theory, but it’s hard to deny the basic premise:  there IS a hierarchy of needs that’s founded on basic, physiological things like food, water and oxygen.

Although individuals may prioritize the upper levels differently, the main point I’m making is, as a species, humans have a long list of priorities beyond the basics of daily survival and reproduction.  We seek happiness, entertainment and fun.  We seek meaning, and understanding.  We might seek higher ground, the philosopher’s stone or perhaps a holy grail of some kind.  Sometimes we seek justice and world peace.  But when it comes down to it, we REALLY need food, water, warmth and friendly relations.  These are fundamental to the human psyche.

One of the most important ways we satisfy many of these basic needs, all at once, is by gathering for food and drink – that’s right, mealtime!  At these occasions, sometimes several times per day, we have an opportunity to get together to eat, drink and be merry.   Pre-history, we discovered fermentation and the alcoholic beverage has been an integral part of every civilization that has survived to the present day.  Why?  Because it can help us to find and experience joy & happiness.

Alcohol, in appropriate portions, is a great social lubricant.  People loosen up and show their true selves.  Inhibitions and walls are dropped, defenses are down and togetherness is more likely.  We talk, laugh and discover things about each other that we didn’t know before.  We meet new and interesting people.  We have conversations and we teach and/or learn.  We commune and enjoy ourselves!  Meals can be wonderful, happy occasions where we can satisfy all of our basic needs and some of our not-so-basic needs that are critical for a healthy, happy life. Bottom line:  eat drink & be merry.  Do it every day.

As you can see, wine is actually a health product.  At Talon Wine Brands, we are proud and happy to provide around 40 excellent wines for your daily celebrations.  If you happen to see an immature raptor, toast its health at your earliest convenience.