I witnessed an interesting incident a couple of years ago when I was still in school. Then I was living in a city in India in an old-style house with big and airy rooms with vents near the ceilings for air and light. These vents had small gaps in between from where small birds could come inside the room.
Almost every year, some of the other birds build a nest in the vent and lay eggs. When they hatched, my sisters and I had non-stop entertainment for a few weeks by just watching the babies. The way they shrieked when their parents brought food for them, then ate out of their beaks, it was sheer joy to see.
This unusual love story started one such year when a new pair of sparrows made a nest and started their family to take forward the yearly tradition. They laid three eggs in it. We put on some chairs and looked at them from a distance because we knew if we touched them, the parents would reject the eggs and babies.
On time, the eggs hatched, and three crying babies came out.
We were overjoyed and spent our days just looking at their activities. They were the highlight of our lives, and we adored the little ones.
Tragedy strikes very soon
It was summertime, and we used a ceiling fan in the room. One night papa sparrow chose to fly away at the same time when I switched off the lights to sleep.
Normally once they settle for the night, they never leave the nest before the daybreak. But his death was calling him and, unfortunately, he answered the call.
He struck the fan almost instantly, and we heard an unmistakable shriek of pain. I immediately switched on the lights and saw him lying on the floor. He was barely alive then and died in my hands. It just broke my heart, and I cried a lot for him.
The mother bird was looking from above. Her babies started crying for food, unaware of the misfortune befallen on them.
Nothing could be done, so we just slept after putting his body at rest under the soil in our garden.
Life goes on
Whatever happens, life has to go on. So, the mother bird and we kept going with our activities. Now since she was alone and had to go in search of food, she started relying on us for the safety of her babies. I took on this responsibility with gusto.
I even tried putting some bird food near the nest, but she preferred to go out to forage. Maybe the little ones had some special diet.
Entry of the other man
One day I heard some commotion from the outside of my room. I rushed out and discovered the Mumma bird fighting off a male sparrow. We shooed away the bird and thought nothing of it further.
But that bird started coming regularly to harass the mother bird. Every time she tried to fight him off and ward him away from her nest.
One day I found one of the babies lying dead on the floor just below the vent. We thought that maybe it fell out of the nest. Although devasted, we still did not realize the intention of the male bird.
Just days after the first baby fell off to death, I heard the male bird come into the room as soon as the mother bird left for food. I wondered why is he here when the mother isn't.
Then with horror, I witnessed him picking up one of the babies and throwing it down. I tried to catch it, but the baby had no chance and it instantly died on hitting the floor.
Now we understood his intentions and also the cause of death of the first baby.
We chased him away and buried the dead bird. Now we constantly kept vigil for him whenever mother went out. Only one of the babies was left and we were ready to go to any length to save him.
For the next few days, we were able to thwart his plans. But he was a bird on a mission: to win his lady love. And he succeeded one day when he finally threw the last baby to its death.
That day mother bird came back early and tried to fight him off. Still, he managed to pick up the baby and throw it. We were ready to kill him for this. But he flew away soon.
That was the saddest day for us. We kept thinking about what will happen to the mother bird the whole day when her partner and babies are all gone. I was very sad and couldn’t understand what to do for her. She was sitting in the empty nest.
A mother’s love loses
We expected that now mother bird will never let that male bird near her. But the day just after the last baby fell off, the mother bird flew off with the new male bird happily. We saw them flying away, chirping together in the morning.
I was shocked to see this. I couldn't understand what happened. Should I be happy to see them together or feel bad that mother bird chose to live with the murderer of her children?
I was still a child, so I couldn’t comprehend that moral values for humans and animals are different. The children’s animal stories written from a human perspective also don’t help. All these stories are full of emotions and circumstances which are nearer to human psychology than to animals’. We read them and expect animals to behave in the same way as us.
But animals are different. For them, emotions and morals are quite raw and undefined. In this story, the babies were a hindrance in getting the mother and male bird together.
When the babies were alive, her maternal instincts were also alive so she tried to save them. But after their death, it was just not possible for her tiny brain to process the facts and mourn for her lost children for the rest of her life. She chose to move on, and the fact that her new partner was also the murderer of her children didn’t affect the decision.
This is how the animal kingdom works. It’s very different from humans' rules and laws. Our emotions and way of thinking are the results of centuries of ingrained rules and values to keep our society close-knit and in order. This is what separates us, humans, from animals.