Dear Readers, I don’t know about you, but for me it’s been a hard week. Every new day has brought news of hatred and bigotry. People that I know and love on both sides of the Atlantic are angry and frightened about what’s happening, and what might happen. What is there to uplift the heart? Outside my window, the birds are going about their business as usual, bickering on the bird feeders. The collared doves in particular are using my garden as a breakfast bar, and last week I counted fourteen birds in the whitebeam tree waiting for their turn. I wondered what would happen if I increased the shutter speed on my camera to try to capture them in flight. And, although the results are far from perfect (I should definitely clean my kitchen window for one thing), I wanted to share them with you.
In the wing we see the perfect meshing of beauty and efficiency. The bird above is about to take-off and we can see the way that the wings are concave to increase lift on the downstroke. The few raised feathers on the bird’s ‘shoulder’ are called the alula, and are attached to what would, in other animals, be the ‘thumb’. This enables the bird to get greater lift at low speeds without stalling. The extended fan shape of the primary and secondary feathers on the edges of the wing maximise its area. Everything works together to enable the bird to take off. This happens all around us, every day, but at speeds too fast for us to normally see.
Here we can see a bird taking off in a hurry, swivelling its body and, again, increasing its wing volume to make sure that it doesn’t stall. Oh, and in the background a squirrel is attempting to dismantle the bird feeder. They have learned how to unscrew the metal perches that attach the plastic feeding spots to the tube, so that the seed pours out onto the tray and they can hoover it up at will. Clever squirrels!
Wings are strong but surprisingly flexible structures. Individual primary and secondary feathers can be controlled by muscles attached to the fine, hollow bones. Look at the angle of the individual feathers on the right hand wing, which have been separated to allow airflow over each one for maximum control. The fanning out of the tail feathers also slows the bird down as it comes into land.
It doesn’t take much to disturb the collared doves, unfortunately: a slammed door, a sudden movement, and they’re off, wheeling and flapping. They can fly perfectly well without making the ‘flap’ sound, so I think it’s often an alarm signal to the other birds. Collared doves don’t seem to have any kind of flock structure, and are monogamous, so maybe the noise is meant mainly for their mate.
I always found collared doves to be subtle birds, both in their colouration and their behaviour. They were just ‘there’ and I have gotten used to them being around. But these photos have really made me look at them again.So, lastly, I want to share with you my favourite image. It is ‘noisy’ and could have been sharper, I know. But there is something about the glory of those wings that fills me with awe and takes me out of my anxious brain for a few moments. The hamster wheel of ‘what-ifs’ stops. Dear Readers, let’s pause, feel the earth beneath our feet and be aware of our living, breathing world. It will provide solace and strength, if we let it.