The hadada ibis chick in my garden is getting ready to fly. The sole surviving hatchling after his sibling eggs were blown to the ground in a storm, his arrival surprised and delighted us (we had supposed the whole brood was lost).
In the three-plus weeks since he emerged from his shelled incubator, the hadada’s world has been confined to a single branch on a tree from where he has watched our comings and goings, tilting his head to follow me with his eyes as I tend the rabbits. And we, in turn, have watched him grow from feathery babyhood to the size-able fellow that he is now.
Every second, minute, hour, day and week of his life has been lived on that branch. To date, he knows nothing beyond its confines. His whole world is that little corner of our garden. His feet have never felt the lawn beneath his tree. He knows nothing of the greenbelt just 300 metres down the road, where others of his kind wait to meet him.
Beneath his lofty perch, squirrels scurry, the rabbits hop and we two-legged humans and our four-legged dogs walk to and fro, creatures confined to scurrying on terrafirma, but the hadada chick, who has never flown, is preparing to fly.
He has started to flap his wings. somewhat tentatively at first. A flutter. Then stop. Wait. Try again. So the cycle repeats itself and with each beating of his wings, previously unused muscles grow stronger, muscle memory is reinforced.
Alone on his branch, there is no-one to guide him, encourage him, instruct him. Still, he beats his wings in response to a primaeval, urgent prompting, an unquestioning knowing… that he is born for more than this.
For everything, every minuscule detail of his design; his smooth, lightweight feathers, his enlarged sternum (breastbone), his streamlined form, rigid skeleton and all-but hollow bones have been forged for this one purpose… flight. He is indeed, “fearfully and wonderfully” made.
And so he continues to wait and practice and wait. Today he managed to hop/fly from his branch to another…(where he remained for several hours before mustering the courage for his return to his comfort zone).
And tomorrow? Tomorrow or the next tomorrow, he knows not when (and neither do I) but one tomorrow he will thrash those wings and they will lift him heavenward, air-born he will fly off his perch, beyond our gate, beyond our ground-bound reality into the blue expanse beyond.
His blood will course strongly through his veins, his heart will soar with him and he will delight in the most profound joy of all, the joy of movement, the joy of being. For in flying he will finally be all he is created to be.
“3 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;[b]
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.”
excerpt from Psalm 139
For further reading:
- Prof. N A Barba: Nature versus Nurture: How do baby birds learn to fly?
- The Science Learning hub: How Birds fly