Learning to Fly

Last week my son was riding his bike on the sidewalk and shouted “Dad! A baby bird!”. The week prior we had come across a dead baby robin on the sidewalk and had to have an impromptu “circle of life” conversation, so I was fearing another little bird had met the same fate. Moving closer to the small brown pile of feathers we could see its little body rising and falling with each quick breathe. A few moments after approaching the little bird, it fluttered through the air a few feet and came crashing down. While it fluttered away I noticed small pockets of red under its wings.

baby cardinal

My attention was also drawn to a nearby rooftop where a male cardinal was keeping watch. Cardinals are one of the most beautiful birds we get here in Michigan, so to see a baby cardinal fresh out of the nest was exciting! At the same time I grew quite worried since this small flightless bird was sure to become a quick meal in its current condition.

Fearing for this helpless creature and wondering what I could do to help it I did what any good millenial would do, I googled “baby cardinal flying”. The search results included several videos of what I would consider very small “helpless” birds attempting to fly. This video in particular best illustrates the scenario that was unfolding in front of our house.

Not unlike the parent cardinals in the video, the male cardinal kept returning to the fledgling. It would return, chirp, then fly straight up into the tree or rooftop overhead. This process continued for hours. Straight through our dinner and into the night. I assume at some point the fledgling and parent rested, but sure enough the next day we saw the male cardinal chirping and carrying on with its flying lessons.

Once I saw the video of the fledgling finally find success I became really focused on the parent cardinal who kept returning over and over. Flying down, chirping a few times, and then giving a flight demonstration back onto a nearby perch. I started to ponder what an amazing act of parenthood this truly is unfolding right in front of us.

A few life lessons started to fill my mind.

  1. Never Give Up– The number of times this baby cardinal “failed” was amazing. So much persistence by the fledgling and patience by the parent!
  2. Stay Positive– I have no idea how to speak cardinal, but it certainly seemed as though the male who kept returning was chirping nothing but positive “you can do it” instruction. The way he stood tall with his crest at attention showed nothing but pride.male cardinal
  3. Lead By Example– In our front yard it was just a male working with the fledgling (there was a lot of chirping from a nearby nest which probably hosted the female). In the video it was both parents. In both scenarios the parent returns to the fledgling’s side and then quickly flies up to a nearby perch. Over and over and over again the parents demonstrate the technique for flight.

For me as a teacher and parent I think this cardinal flight demonstration was a great reminder of several key things.

First, as hard as it was to watch this young bird fail over and over, the reward of flight is an invaluable lesson learned. How many times do I step in too soon and complete a task for my kids they should be learning by trial and error?

Next, I still doubt the male cardinal was flying down to tell junior everything it was doing wrong in trying to fly. I need to stay positive in my redirection and revisit frequently with the “you can do it” mantra.

Finally, there is the reminder to lead by example. I greatly respect John Wooden and always liked his use of Rudyard Kipling’s couplet, “No printed word, nor spoken plea can teach young minds what they should be. Not all the books on all the shelves – but what the teachers are themselves.”

Nature amazes me. The lessons the natural world can offer us is a big reason why I am a science teacher. While life seems to become increasingly busy and material it is important to find even a few minutes to slow down and take in all the beauty around us. Peace.

Banner Photo Credit: Earl Orf

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