Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 12 July 2020

Want to rediscover the little things in life? Listen to the birds

While we humans are locked down, avian life goes on – and it starts with a dawn chorus

DUESSELDORF, GERMANY - MAY 27: A bird is seen flying inside the stadium during the Bundesliga match between Fortuna Duesseldorf and FC Schalke 04 at Merkur Spiel-Arena on May 27, 2020 in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Photo by Martin Meissner/Pool via Getty Images)
DUESSELDORF, GERMANY - MAY 27: A bird is seen flying inside the stadium during the Bundesliga match between Fortuna Duesseldorf and FC Schalke 04 at Merkur Spiel-Arena on May 27, 2020 in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Photo by Martin Meissner/Pool via Getty Images)

They say the little things make a big difference. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has been a literal case in point: a tiny virus disrupted the world’s nations, economies and societies.

In a matter of weeks, businesses shut down while physical distancing, working from home and the wearing of masks and gloves became common scenes.

While most of the world was in lockdown, nature was coming into full bloom. Spring arrived; days became longer and the air got warmer. Humankind has largely been indoors, but the wild has been coming out. Mountain goats took over a Welsh town, a pod of orcas visited Vancouver’s shores and gazelles roamed Dubai’s streets.

The sublime beauty of birds inspired poets such as Emily Dickinson, as well as musicians for centuries. Getty Images
Emily Dickinson took inspiration for her poetry from birds. Getty

Another notable change has been more audible: riotous traffic noises have been replaced by melodic bird songs. For birds, no matter what storm or pandemic passes, life goes on – and it starts with a dawn chorus.

Their beauty inspired poets and musicians for centuries. In one of her poems, Emily Dickinson sees hope as a bird signing even during difficult times: “Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops – at all.”

In Maya Angelou's poem Caged Bird, the isolated bird sings out of hope for freedom. The cuckoo’s hollow call shaped classical music pieces by famous composers such as Beethoven, Mahler and Vivaldi.

The lockdown has given us an opportunity to be inspired by birds, even from just a glance out the window. Perhaps we can gain a few life lessons from them, like embracing the present.

The yellow-billed common myna bringing straws to the nest it has chosen in a tree hollow is concerned only with its work. They too have their own troubles, like cars, cats and pesticides. Yet they simply live, focused on the moment.

Birds realise that focus is key to achieving their targets. Falcons never lose focus on a prey – even from several hundred metres away – before striking it. For millennia, their vision has played a crucial role in helping hunt game for Bedouins in the scarce desert of the Arabian Peninsula.

A falcon receives medical treatment at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital in Abu Dhabi. Reuters
A falcon receives medical treatment at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. Reuters

Unsurprisingly, the UAE today has the world’s largest falcon hospital and leads large-scale breeding initiatives to repopulate the species around the world.

Most recently, a breeding programme backed by the UAE reached a milestone with the hatching of saker falcon chicks in Bulgaria. With their strong vision, crows and parrots are also trained to pick up litter in public parks and reserves across Abu Dhabi.

Birds know that if they want to go far, they need to go together. Migratory birds, like geese, fly together in a V formation to catch the preceding bird’s updraft. This reduces air friction, allowing them to fly with less effort and at least 71 per cent further than if each bird flew alone.

Birds surround us almost everywhere we look. But this is precisely why we fail to grasp them fully – because of their banality. Have you noticed how the pinkish brown chest of the laughing dove puffs up when it calls? Or how the house sparrow hops rather than walks? When you do, you begin to notice other details around – the zesty fragrance of oranges, the warmth of a cup of tea, the blended hues of red and crimson in a sunset. From birds we can learn to appreciate the little things in life.

After all, the little things make a big difference.

Fatima Al Fahim is a writer and a graduate in public policy at the University of Oxford

Updated: May 28, 2020 06:25 PM

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