A happy family is but an earlier heaven.
Although these words were written by George Bernard Shaw sometime in the 19th century, one could call them timeless because they continue to be relevant even today.
Family, referred to as a group of people you’re related to by birth, is the strongest asset you can have for life. They’re people who love and support you unconditionally and would always have your back through the thick and thins of life.
The concept of family is not only valued by humans but even by birds and animals. In today’s article, we’ll look at eight birds that hold their families in high esteem and are, therefore, representatives of it. Let’s get started!
1. Bald Eagles
Since we’re talking about family, the names of eagles cannot be forgotten. While these mighty birds of prey are often known for their strength and ruthlessness, as far as family values are concerned, these birds are quite grounded.
Unlike many other birds that indulge in polygamy and polyandry, the Bald Eagles are exclusively monogamous and stick with one mate all their lives. They’re also understandably territorial and will continue to return to the same nest for decades.
It is often mentioned how these eagles are what we’d call good spouses and parents. And while their loyalty is proof of the former, let’s learn what makes them good parents.
The first sign of how much these birds care about their unborn babies is the effort they put into building their homes. It is no secret that eagle nests are among the largest and most magnificent of all bird nests. The process of building these nests lasts for about three months, during which both parents toil together to give it a solid structure and line the insides with soft materials.
After their eggs hatch into fledglings, both parents care for the newborn eaglets attentively, with the mother looking after them and the father bringing them all food. This isn’t easy as growing eaglets have a massive appetite, making their father work extra hard while hunting.
During this time, the eaglets are also quite sensitive to the weather, which is why their parents protect them from excessive heat and cold. It takes the eaglets about 8-14 weeks to be old enough to look after themselves, with their parents being by their side the entire time. We dare you to show us a better example of family among the birds than these eagles.
2. Siberian Jays
Siberian Jays are yet another representative of the spirit of family among birds. Just like the Blue Jays, these corvids also practice monogamy strictly; they not only mate with a single partner but also settle down in a single territory for life.
Their attitude toward their family is quite similar. The jay couple works together to collect nesting materials and prepare for breeding in advance. Once the eggs have been laid in the nest, the male takes charge of feeding her and, after the eggs hatch, the fledglings.
After 14-18 days of hatching, when the fledglings are old enough to fly, it’s time to leave their parents’ nest. But unlike most birds that fly off to join new flocks or live by themselves, the fledgling jays don’t get detached from their parents right away.
Even after having moved out of the nest, they prefer to inhabit the other branches of the same tree (or neighboring trees) to remain in their parents’ territory and under their care. The parent jays are aware of it as well and continue to feed them all for the next three weeks.
The jay family stays together throughout summer, autumn, and winter, and in that year, both parents teach various important survival skills, such as finding food in scarce months and recognizing the most threatening predators.
It is also found that some Siberian Jays fledglings have inherited their natal territory in the rare case the parents abandoned it. All these are indicative of the jays’ strong family values, which boost the young ones’ chances of survival in the wild considerably.
3. Canada Geese
Considered the largest goose species in the world, the Canada Geese are migratory waterfowls that are popular for their noisy nature. While these birds have adapted quite well to living around human settlements, when it comes to their family, they’re extremely conservative.
As you might already know, Canada Geese are monogamous birds that mate with one partner their whole lives. They’re also precocial, meaning that their newly-hatched babies are fully capable of walking, swimming, and feeding themselves from the beginning.
However, just because these goslings are capable of survival doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be looked after; the parent geese would miss no opportunity of doing so. They keep their babies close, often leading them to different places by forming a line, with both parents at either end.
Parent geese are also very protective of their goslings and wouldn’t think twice before attacking any animal lurking too close, including humans.
4. Warblers and sparrows
You might be wondering why we’ve placed warblers and sparrows on our list. It is because, in addition to raising their own younger ones, these birds often end up raising the babies of other birds.
How many of you are familiar with the concept of brood parasitism? It is a practice wherein one parent bird lays their eggs in the nest of another, leaving the charge of raising their younger ones to the nest owner. The family of cowbirds is infamous for this practice in the avian kingdom.
Brown-headed Cowbirds are the most well-versed cowbird species in brood parasitism, having over 220 known hosts. Most of their hosts include warblers and sparrows, and for a good reason.
These passerine birds aren’t generally smart enough to tell the cowbird’s eggs apart from their own. Moreover, because the cowbird fledglings are larger and stronger than the fledglings of warblers and sparrows, they have higher chances of survival in their nest.
And while people of science might see it as a sign of weakness, in the world of symbolism, it’s seen as a sign of strength. Being a parent is a huge sacrifice in itself; but to be a parent to someone who is not your child is an even bigger one. After all, there’s a reason why raising babies is considered one of the toughest tasks in the world.
Warblers and Sparrows are symbolic of family because, to them, family is more than just a connection by birth; these little birds are capable of treating total strangers as family, too.
Once a cowbird egg appears in their nest, they treat it no different than the other eggs, keeping it warm and safe from predators. Even after all eggs hatch, the host parents feed and care for all fledglings equally, be it their own fledglings or that of the cowbirds.
Cranes are a family of long-necked wading birds that are ranked among the oldest living birds on Earth, with some of their fossils dating back 10 million years. Wondering what family values you can learn from these ancient birds? Allow us to enlighten you.
Did you know that cranes are a precocial species? It means that their younger ones are born in an advanced state and are capable of leaving their nests and living independently from day one. Despite this, they stick with their family for roughly a year, which is rarely seen among other birds.
The younger ones of Sandhill Cranes stay with their parents until the next breeding season arrives. The same is true for the Sarus Crane chicks, who follow their parents around for food despite being able to hunt successfully on their own. Their parents also send them alarming signals when a predator is lurking by, thus, keeping them safe.
A similar tradition is followed in the Brolga family, where in times of impending threat, the parent Brolga forms a broken-wing display to distract the predators from their younger ones.
If you look at this behavior symbolically, you’ll notice how the role of a family is not merely to make an individual self-sufficient; it is to protect them for as long and as far as possible, even when they’re capable of doing that themselves.
Pelicans are large-billed waterbirds known for their massive throat pouches, which are used for hunting and storing food. While these aquatic birds do not mate for life, they stay monogamous for each breeding season, where both parents work dedicatedly towards raising their brood.
There’s an interesting story about the sacrificing nature of the pelicans in the Book of Bestiary in the Medieval world that outlines these birds’ love for their family.
In the story, a mother pelican gives birth to a brood of chicks. For a long time, she cares for her babies and feeds them timely. However, as the chicks grow up, they behave violently towards her, pecking at her for no apparent reason. This infuriates the mother, who strikes back at her chicks, rendering them dead.
Soon, the mother pelican is filled with remorse at her actions and becomes inconsolable. In a desperate attempt to bring her children back to life, she pierces her own chest. When the drops of blood fall from her chest on the dead chicks, they miraculously come back to life as their mother slowly bleeds out, making the ultimate sacrifice for her children.
And while there might not be a strong logical foundation behind this story, it does teach us about the love and sacrifice it takes to be a part of a family.
Penguins have always been unique among the birds, be it due to their inability to fly, their classic tuxedo appearance, or their completely marine lifestyle. And while all of us are familiar with these quirks, you’d be surprised to learn how evolved their parenting style is.
The gregarious nature of these birds has made their lives easier in many ways. They stick together to beat the cold and often help each other out within their communities. But when the task of parenting is brought forth, each pair buckles up to do their duties.
You might not know this, but penguins are altricial birds, which means that they’re born underdeveloped, dependent entirely on their parents for food, warmth, and protection. And being incredible parents, the adult penguins are happy to oblige.
Take the case of Macaroni Penguins, for example; their egg takes roughly 35 days to hatch after it has been laid. During this period, both parents take turns looking after the egg and going out in the sea to feed.
Because these fragile eggs can’t be left alone at all, both parents need to starve themselves to let the other feed. Consequently, by the time the incubation period is completed, both parents lose roughly 40% of their body mass.
Even after the egg hatches, the father penguin protects them from the harsh weather for the next 25 days, until their feathers have grown.
Swallows are tiny birds with a primarily aerial lifestyle. These short-legged creatures have adapted to even feeding in flight, with their diet comprising almost exclusively of insects.
As far as the symbolism of family is concerned, there’s much to be learned from these birdies. While they aren’t long-lived, these birds often mate for life, reproducing with the same partner year after year.
Swallows are even better parents than they are lovers. You must know how the mother bird is generally the one to incubate the eggs; the same happens with swallows. However, whenever they’re away, the father is happy to take over the job.
When swallow fledglings are born, they’re featherless and unable to open their eyes for the next ten days. During these vulnerable days, both parents participate equally in keeping them warm, safe, and well-fed.
Although baby swallows take significantly longer to develop than the other passerines, it doesn’t bother the parents one bit. In fact, they’re happy to accommodate these baby birds in their nest for roosting even after they’ve left the nest for good. If this isn’t the kind of welcome you can expect from your family any time, we don’t know what else could be.
Wrapping it up
With this, we’ve come to the end of our article. Our topic of discussion was the symbolism of family among birds. As many of you must already know, the concept of family is quite different for birds than it is for humans.
Most members of the avian world look after their younger ones for the shortest possible period. Some, like the cowbirds, also dump their own eggs in the nest of other birds to avoid raising them.
However, among this crowd, there are some birds who take their family seriously and are willing to go to great lengths to ensure their well-being. Above, we’ve talked about eight such birds.
Thanks for reading this article. We’d like to end by speaking to you as a friend. We think that a good family is one of the greatest gifts that we can have, and we hope that you’ll find a way to honor your family members in whatever way possible.