A lesson learnt

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“Okay, I flew up here, Dad. What else do I have to learn today?”

“Well, Son. For starters, you have to learn where to find food.”

“I got that already. I stand here with my gape wide open and scream until you come and feed me.”

“Yeah, but I’m not going to do that for ever, am I?”

“Why not?”

“Because parents only feed their chicks that way until they’re old enough to feed themselves;”

“That doesn’t seem very fair.”

“Life isn’t fair, and that’s a good lesson to learn, too. Anyway, I haven’t always been a grown-up,. I was a hatchling once and had to be fed by my parents, too.”

“You have parents?”

“Of course.”

“But you’re old! How ancient must your parents be?”

“They died a long time ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. So who fed you after they died?”

“Nobody.”

Nobody?

“Nobody. Before they died – a long time before, actually – I had learnt to feed myself.”

“Are you and Mum going to die, Dad?”

“Yes. Of course.”

WHAT?!

“Everybody dies. That’s why we have young; to keep our species, our bloodline alive and healthy. You won’t live forever, either, you know.”

“Won’t I? Why not?”

“Just believe me when I say you won’t. These bodies grow old and die – if we’re lucky.”

“What’s lucky about growing old and dying?”

“Everything. Not everybody manages to do it. I have to level with you, Kid. Life can be tough. Some birds are killed by predators – cats, hawks, humans – some fly into things like cars, windows and those enormous twirly things on the top of hills, and some starve to death if they can’t find food.”

“You’re scaring me, Dad.”

“You’re right to be scared. It’s a frightening world out there. That’s why it’s important you learn to do things for yourself, so when the time comes, you’ll be okay.”

“I understand, Dad. What do I need to learn, apart from feeding myself?”

“Let’s concentrate on that first. Now – to get at the food we like, especially the juicy larvae, you have to drill a hole into tree bark, to dig them out.”

“What do I use to drill with?”

“Your beak.”

“My WHAT?”

“Your beak. You’ll need to build up your neck muscles so you can attack the tree like a jackhammer. It’s hard to start with, but you’ll get used to it. Once you’ve made a hole, you can use your long tongue to reach in and grab the goodies.”

“Isn’t there an easier way? I’m sure I say you yesterday getting stuff out of something down there, where the smaller birds are.”

“That’s what they call a bird-feeding station, put up by good humans — they’re not all good, by the way, so it’s safest not to trust any of them. There’s stuff there for all kinds of birds. Some of it we can use, like nuts, seeds and… mm mmm… suet.”

“Isn’t that easier than bashing your head against a tree?”

“It is, but you can’t rely on it.”

“Why not?”

“Sometimes the people who put it out go on holiday, sometimes they may be poorly, sometimes they just forget. It soon runs out, or gets wet in the rain and goes off. Don’t get me wrong – it’s great whilst it’s there, but you have to be able to find food when it’s not.”

“Okay, Dad. What do I have to do?”

“We’ll start the easy way, with the feeder stuff. There were peanuts in there yesterday and fat balls. Let’s see if they’re still there. Follow me, Son. Head down and go into a dive and remember what I told you to do when you throw yourself into the void…”

“Okay, Dad… Dad?… DAD? — What was the name of that Apache bloke?”

This was written in response to Kreative Kue 308 published on this site.

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