Such Great Heights

Ask a group of people what is the first word they think of when they hear the word “bird”, and I’ll bet most will answer “flight.” Birds and flying go together like peanut butter and jelly. One without the other just doesn’t seem complete.

Not only do birds fly, but some of them fly very high; others fly really far and there are birds who fly at very fast speeds. The champion high flyer is the Bar-headed Goose who is able to negotiate its way over 29,000 foot Himalayan mountaintops.

The Great Snipe is a winner in both speed and distance without stopping categories because this bird can fly at speeds of 60 miles per hour for 4,200 miles without taking a break.

Then there are the birds that don’t fly far, but boy do they clock up the speed. Peregrine falcons reach 200 miles per hour when diving to catch prey. Swifts fly more than 100 miles per hour, and they do this in level flight.

Birds are the only animals that can be found in water, on ice, in deserts, marshes, beaches and among rocks, and of course, in the air were they reign supreme. They navigate without instruments.  They use their own muscle power and thermals to cross continents and oceans. Some are able to speed through forests and avoid trees with precision that surpasses the ability of fighter planes.

With respect to flying, birds not only get the job done, they do it with grace. Which is why it’s so surprising that in spite of how birds make it look, flying is not easy. As a matter of fact, flight requires enormous energy and a lot of practice.

Anyone who has seen a baby bird try out its wings can attest to the fact that being able to fly is not a matter of simply “doing it.” A bird needs strength of both body and will.

Motivation to fly comes in many forms. Regardless of whether it stems from fear of mom and dad leaving it behind, or because there is something yummy to eat that can only be reached by spreading wings and taking to the air, baby birds are no different from baby humans. They need moral support and a cheering section helps.  Before a baby bird’s maiden flight, the parents repeatedly call to the baby, encouraging it to try.

Birds are beautiful when they are still, but birds in flight are like drops of ambrosia on the tongue, or great poetry, or a song that speaks to who you are in ways you hadn’t realized until you heard it.

To see a bird soaring in the skies above borders on being a mystical experience for me. Instead of making me feel inadequate because I can’t do what the bird is doing, it lifts me up, reaffirms the wisdom of nature, and in doing so, infuses me with optimism for the earth that birds and we share.

By Michele Raffin, Pandemonium Aviaries founder