Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Small, Sad Ending

So this is the nest the doves built on top of the verandah clothesline. At this stage it was a few days off completion.


Below is the completed nest now abandoned. Not a particularly pretty sight but, while it mightn't look much, by dove standards this is a veritable mansion. It has tall sides, a securely built floor of twigs and grass and the long bits apparently just trailing untidily actually anchor it to the ledge it's sitting on. Doves don't go much for fripperies - you won't find any feather linings here - but when the hen settles on her eggs, her feathers spread out to cover them and protect from any draughty gaps.

By last Friday I knew the babies had hatched. Pisces found some broken egg shells that had been dumped away from the nest and, although I couldn't see the babies, there was feeding going. This kept on all day Friday and Saturday and we seemed on track for a successful chick rearing.

Then tragedy struck. On Saturday night south west Western Australia was hit by a fierce cold front bringing with it gales, rain and hail. There was widespread damage. I was woken at one time certain the roof was going to fly off. Luckily it didn't but Pisces found his way to work blocked by the roof of a block of apartments that had been deposited on a major highway so not everyone was as fortunate.

The gales and rain kept on most of the day, easing a little in the late afternoon, but the nest was still in place with the little hen sitting tight. Good, I thought, they've survived. Then a second front hit. More gales, more hail, more rain all night.

Next morning the hen was very distressed, standing on the edge of the nest, calling and fluttering her wings. The male kept coming and going, calling loudly, as agitated as she was. This went on most of the day and then they were both gone shortly before dark. I hoped they'd be back for the night but next morning there was no sign of them. So I got the ladder out. The nest was empty.

What happened I don't know. Maybe the hen was blown off the nest and the chicks went too. I looked around and eventually found one tiny corpse. A small tragedy in the scheme of things, I suppose. The thing that got me, though, was how distressed the parents were. We are inclined to underestimate, I think, how creatures other than humans feel. Watching them it was obvious they were desperately affected by what had happened. The male seemed to be persuading the hen that it was over,  that it was time to go and when they eventually left, they went together.

It made me think. We talk about dumb animals and we're anthropomorphising if we talk about them having feelings. They don't feel things like we do, we're told. They have limited understanding. People are the special ones, those who feel. Well, after watching this small tragedy, I've been asking myself this question: how do we know that?

When you think about it properly, it really doesn't make sense. We know how strong the maternal instinct is. So why do we only dignify it with the word love if it's to do with humans? I'm sure emotions work differently in other creatures - it must given their experiences are different from ours - but one thing I'm certain of having watched those two doves is that they were grieving. Maybe they got on with their lives more quickly than human parents would have but that could be because they live only a fraction of the time we expect to. Because I've seen these things happen before I know they won't come back to this nest and what does that say about them and how they feel?

Maybe we should try to look at these issues less through the prism of humanity's eyes and instead try to be more objective. Then, perhaps, we will begin a whole new relationship with our fellow creatures.


Keira McKenzie said...

ah - so sad, Helen. I wonder if they will come back next year. I know there are singing honeyearter nests on either side of the garden, one on one side in a hedge, and the other in the ovy over the carport. I saw the birds yesterday, picking grubs out of my garden, so they were still there. Haven't seen them today.

Keira McKenzie said...

Very sad Helen

Helen V. said...

I hope they do, Kiera, but who knows.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

You have published an awesome resource.

Stop by my web blog; tutoring melbourne - -

Satima Flavell said...

Many times, I've seen animals grieving for their lost young ones, and it's obvious that they are capable of strong feelings. I've also seen animals fall in love - trying to get a pedigree cat, dog, or sheep to mate with the chosen partner for the breeding program can be a waste of time if the female has set her heart on a particular male. (It doesn't seem to work the other way around - sound familiar?)

Helen V. said...

I think the idea that they don't have feelings is a convenient fiction. Keeps us from acknowledging some of our behaviour isn't as appropriate as it might be.