Basin Notes

THERE is nothing more appealing than a baby animal. The lost look in their eyes, the inability to walk or fly properly, the begging for food, the poor attempts to feed themselves – they all arouse our sympathy and amusement. But why?

It is to be expected that we are concerned over our own babies, but why do the young of another species engender the same feelings? After all, the life of wild birds and animals is very different to our own and, in comparison, very brutal.

Those young blue tits that fledged from your garden nest box have to learn fast about food, shelter and predators. Unfortunately, most of them don’t learn fast enough and probably only one of the brood will survive until next spring. This is, of course, why they have such big broods, so they can play the numbers game and produce enough young to maintain or increase the population.

Those who don’t survive the rigours of their first six months have not perished in vain. They will provide food for any number of other species whose own survival depends on the bounty of baby birds to feed to their own young. The obvious beneficiary of a blue tit bonanza is the sparrowhawk with its own nest of youngsters to feed. Less obvious are the myriad number of invertebrates that will feast off carcasses of any bird or animal they can find that, in turn, allows them to reproduce successfully.

And, although it is not a pleasant thought, we need all those insects to breed in their thousands to provide food for all the swallows and martins busily collecting beaks full of them for their hungry nestlings.

As you can see, it is an intricate pattern of life and death that balances the needs of all those participating and prevents us being over-run with flies or blue tits!

So why do humans, with a life that is so different to that of these wild species, empathise with their youngsters? In fact, why do we pay any attention to the wild world at all?

For an enthralling investigation into such matters, I would urge everyone to read Jeremy Mynott’s book ‘Birdscapes’. He looks closely at the various aspects of our enjoyment of birds including their sounds, beauty, rarity and naming in a very readable way with wry humour about the human condition.

Sadly, he does not address the question posed here, but importantly underlines the fact that our fascination with birds, and nature in general, epitomises the human attributes of inquisitiveness and thirst for knowledge. These activities have their own reward even if the final answer is beyond our grasp.

So we have to accept that we do get enjoyment from observing the wild world and the change of the seasons and so we should just relish it and not worry too much about the reasons why.

If you want to see how all the young birds are managing with life you can come along the Ranger Reserve Ramble on Saturday, July 16, from 12.30 to 4.30pm. Book your place or get further details by phoning Montrose Basin Visitor Centre on 01674 676336 or e-mailing montrosebasin@swt.org.uk