Monday, May 11, 2009
Mother's Day for feathered friends, too
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel May 11, 2009)
This year, Mother's Day was for the birds — and I mean that in the nicest way.
The two sandhill cranes that live on our lake have finally become parents. Although it was their second attempt this spring to create a family, the days leading up to Mother's Day found the devoted couple attentively tending to their offspring.
In March, the same cranes laid eggs and took turns incubating them, but a predator managed to slip in and steal the clutch before the babies hatched. I thought that was the end of this year's parenting attempts. Fortunately, I was wrong. Three weeks after the first eggs disappeared, the birds resumed nesting — same nest, two new eggs, one more chance to make baby cranes.
By the beginning of May, just in time for Mother's Day, the cranes' desire for a family was realized. Mama Crane began strutting her stuff with two fluffy-feathered babies by her side. How exciting!
I've been watching the sandhill cranes for months. In February, I managed to capture on video their mating dance, the male bird's short but provocative demonstration of his strength and virility. In March, I followed their nest-building activities and listened to their bellowing cries as they made it clear to other sandhill cranes that our lake was their territory and theirs alone.
I waited hopefully as two large eggs sat in the birds' roughly constructed nest and sighed disappointedly when I looked through my binoculars one day and discovered that the eggs were missing. By the time April rolled around, I didn't know what to expect. Everything I had read suggested that cranes do not reproduce twice in one season. Apparently, the cranes must have missed that memo. Either that or their parental instincts were exceptionally strong.
Maybe I identify with the sandhill cranes more than most because my own childbearing experiences did not go as expected. My first attempt to create life also ended prematurely. Despite the sadness of our long-ago miscarriage, Ralph and I never abandoned our dream of a family. Within a year, I was pregnant again and gave birth to the first of our four children. Twenty-nine years later, my oldest child is married and about to become a mother herself.
The circle of life is an awe-inspiring phenomenon. It doesn't matter if the subject of that cycle is people, plants, birds, mammals, insects or tiny one-celled creatures. Regardless of our differences, the desire to reproduce and nurture new life is one thing we all have in common.
As I watch the sandhill cranes go about their daily routine with their babies by their sides, I feel a special connection to not just the birds but to mothers everywhere. Despite our physical diversity and biological differences, mothers share a universal need to impart knowledge, overcome struggles and avoid danger. Bottom line: We want the best for our children.
Being a mom is no small task. It might just be the greatest work a female of any species will ever do. Sandhill cranes go about the business of parenting free from Hallmark reminders of a job well done. They do it because that's what nature intended. That's what nature demands. Their reward comes not from receiving gifts but from giving life. Isn't that what being a mom is all about?