It’s Only Natural
I couldn’t make out what it was at first. All I could see was a fan shaped tail, neatly finished with a black trim, bobbing up and down on top of the trellis. It turned out to be the back end of Mr Pigeon, tenaciously wooing his intended with a gentlemanly bow. Mrs Pigeon, succumbing to his advances, swooned and curtsied in response. The increase in daylight hours has sent them into romantic overdrive. Mr and Mrs Pigeon aren’t the only ones. I can already hear the quivering shrills of nestlings in my hedgerow. All across the Northern Hemisphere; plants, insects, birds and animals, are currently on a mission to secure their family line.
A badger born this year is the consequence of last year’s romances. Mrs Badger has the unique ability to prevent the implantation of her fertilised egg into her womb, for up to 9 months. So, even though the deed is usually done in Spring, she doesn’t actually become pregnant until late Autumn! She is then only pregnant for up to 3 months. It’s thought that this ‘delayed implantation’ (not a conscious decision), ensures that her cubs are born at the optimum time of year for their survival. To be even more efficient at securing her family line, she might mate a second or third time in the same season, with a different Mr Badger. Cutting it all short –Mrs Badger can have multiple offspring, from multiple fathers, synchronised into one pregnancy, all born at the same time! How’s that for family planning? Her motherly instincts will motivate her to defend and protect her little ones with her life; nurture them, and mentor them in the fundamentals of badger etiquette. She’ll give her absolute all, and if she’s the ‘top sow’ in the sett; she might even kill cubs outside of her litter, if she feels there is a threat to food or to her family’s security. In late summer her teenagers will have to strike out on their own, leave home, find new territory, establish their own family and subsequently teach their young ones how to make their own way in life. Sadly, what was once nurtured, protected, defended and mentored becomes competition for food, partners, security and territory. And, so it goes on, generation after generation.
This particular beat to the rhythm of life is bittersweet, and a poignant parallel with our own experiences. We can see it reflected in world events even now. Someone believes their security is threatened and – well – you know the rest. However, the animal kingdom is also capable of the most extraordinary behaviours. Sometimes their acts can even seem heroic. If a cat has had kittens and is still expressing milk, she will rear baby hedgehogs as her own. It’s not uncommon for swimmers to be encircled by dolphins to form a protective barrier against a shark attack. And, there are countless stories of dogs protecting owners from attackers, rescuing them from a blazing inferno or saving them from a watery demise. I mean, just how many times did that canine hero of the 1970’s, Lassie, tell us that “Timmy’s fallen down a well” (again)?
Mercifully, we too are capable of extraordinary behaviours. With the added benefit of reason thrown into mix, the ‘natural’ God given instincts to protect, defend, help, nurture, and mentor; drives us to put our own needs aside, and to make sacrifices – particularly when the safety, security and wellbeing of those we consider to be family, is threatened. Alongside what seems to be our ever burgeoning ‘man’s inhumanity to man’, we see unfolding; acts of generosity, selflessness, kindness, courage and compassion. It’s not always our default position but if members of the animal kingdom can act in such extraordinary ways, then we must absolutely choose to behave above and beyond the same.
Meanwhile, in my garden – judging by what happened following the Dance of the Pigeons, it won’t be long before I’ll be cooing over the sight of their miniature offspring. But by the end of summer, when baby squab has become teenage squab, I’ll resent having to share my edibles with it. And, believing my food security to be threatened, the cry of “keep your bird lips off my food” will reverberate throughout the neighbourhood once again. We all know it’s going to happen – it’s only natural after all.