The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

February 1, 2013

Something for the birds

By Ian Faulkner, Staff Writer

Friday, February 1, 2013 — How many ancient beliefs do we regard as superstition nowadays? But is it fair to call these beliefs false?

An ancient method for foretelling the future and finding signs and portents is called augury. Augury focuses on observing the flight patterns of birds. The augur does not predict the future so much as he finds signs on whether a given course of action has been approved by the gods.

One can find augury in all sorts of cultures from Roman to those of the Native Americans.

I think the ancients were wise to look to the birds for answers.

The expression “bird’s eye view” is around for a reason. By being able to fly through the skies, birds have the ability to survey the landscape and to find out what’s going on. One can view anything from so high up.

Not to mention the term “hawk-eye,” which generally refers to a person with excellent sight.

Disgusting though it may seem, some birds are flesh eaters. From high in the sky, vultures or ravens can spot dead animals on the ground. They circle the area where the prey is. To the careful observer’s eye, one can learn a lot of useful information by simply watching the birds in the sky.

Birds are well-known for their sight prowess.

There is an old saying that birds fly south for the winter. When one sees flights of birds migrating, then it’s an indicator that winter is fast approaching.

Moreover, one can tell if there is food in an area by whether or not there are birds present. If there are no tiny avian creatures flitting about from spot to spot, chances are slim there’s food in the area.

There’s a lot to be learned from watching the birds and their flight patterns, even in our modern culture.

First off, birds taught mankind how to fly. For untold eons man has marveled at the miracle of flight, jealously observing those that can fly by nature’s design. Based off these natural blue-prints, the body mechanics of flight-bound creatures, mankind was able to build contraptions capable of sustained flight, which in turn has allowed mankind as a species to expand further than even before, reaching as far as the stars, even.

Birds are even shaping the way we view our history.

When Sir Richard Owen coined the term “dinosaur” he indicated what he believed them to be, “terrible lizard.” What the man wouldn’t know about in his lifetime is that modern day birds more closely resemble the fossils of dinosaurs than reptiles do.

Last, but certainly not least, is the practice of birdwatching.

People watch birds for any number of reasons, one of which is they find it relaxing.

Relaxation aside, there is one more important discovery that was inspired by the birds.

Charles Darwin, when in the Galapagos Islands, penned his theory on evolution based off observations of bird species on the islands.

If birds aren’t important to our culture, and past cultures, then why are there so many bird houses and bird baths in so many American back yards?

Dogs, man’s best friend, don’t even get that kind of attention.

Whether it’s checking on the weather or inspiring a revolutionary new theory, birds have a lot they can teach mankind about the way the world works.