Have you ever heard the saying, “A dog is a man’s best friend”? For many of us who have had a dog for a pet, this saying rings true. Our dog, Mickey, has proven to be a loving, forgiving and tolerant friend and own’s a place in our hearts eternally. But have dogs cornered the market on building friendships with humans? There are thousands of accounts and videos from people around the world who testify, dogs are only one of our potential non-human friends.
My husband and I spend a great deal of time on the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge. It’s there that we witnessed for ourselves, friends come in many shapes, sizes and species. Some have scales, some have fur and some have feathers among other sordid wild attributes. Friendships aren’t limited to humans or domesticated animals, they exist where ever we choose to express our love and appreciation. Little did we know one day we would have friends with feathers who would fly into our hearts. Each of these winged pals are responsible for countless hours of joy in our lives and a true blessing from the natural world.
I want to introduce you to three of our very special feathered friends: Goosy, Ben and Xavier. Goosy is a Canada goose and is a gander or male goose. He had an injured wing rendering him unable to fly. When he could fly, like other Canada geese, he could fly at an average of 40 mph and increase to 70 mph if a strong tailwind was caught. During migration, his strong wings would bring him more than 1000 kilometers a day, the equivalent to flying around the World in 40 days. I can only imagine the sights he saw, the world in perfect view. He never seemed bitter about being fully grounded, never to return to flight.
Every morning we caught sight of each other, we were greeted with a loud honking vocalization as he ran to us as if it had been years since we saw each other. Canada geese communicate with other geese with a series of 9 different vocalizations but we were only able to identify 3. The loud honk morning greeting, a lower tone honking with slight pause and a coo in between, while on our walks as if he were singing his own little song in contentment and a low vibrational purr type sound when we fed him grass tufts. There were no words but our hearts provided enough description as to what these vocalizations meant; we were indeed friends.
He loved water and would dunk his head into a pool of water and throw water onto his back with his head as he crested the surface. His feathers were shades of black, grey and white and although he didn’t have brightly colored feathers, he was stunningly beautiful. His black snappy eyes were like giant mirrors of grace, so kind and peaceful. Unfortunately, one day Goosy was no longer there when we arrived, we don’t know if he found a lady friend or succumbed to a wild animal as we saw no signs of his death. How could our hearts be so broken about his absence? To this day we still mourn the loss of his friendship and shed tears as we reminisce about the times we had together.
Our next pal is Ben, Ben Franklin to be precise. We never asked why this was his name but we assumed it was because Ben Franklin the man, wanted the turkey to be the national bird instead of the eagle. Ben was brought to the refuge between a poult (baby turkey) and a jake (yearling). His mother was killed and he adopted humans as his parents who worked and felt guilty that he was not regularly cared for and loved. Due to his previous interactions with humans, he was sociable and we were able to feed him from our hands and hold him.
He made a large white pine his home and that is where he could be found in the morning as we arrived on the refuge. He did make the traditional gobbling sound, a vocalization only male turkeys make, but in the morning, it sounded like a deep-toned chirping. Once he saw us, he was ready to help with any enclosure we were working on that day. If there was hammering going on whether it be near the ground or 8 feet in the air, Ben would find his way to that location and begin to peck at the wood in the same area as if he were hammering too. He ate seeds and berries from our hands and would nuzzle our necks when we held and hugged him.
His feathers were a mixture of browns, greys, blacks and a blueish metallic color on the ends of some. His head was originally bald and pink but as he grew, hews of blue could be seen among the pink. A natural occurrence as male turkeys are becoming toms (a mature adult). Turkeys can run up to speeds of 25 miles an hour so there was no worry Ben couldn’t keep up with us. He was part of our morning ritual while constructing several projects on the lower portion of the refuge but like Goosy, one day we arrived and he was not there. He had taken flight to his life in the wild and with his flight a piece of our heart went with him.
Last but not least is Xavier, a magpie jay. Magpie Jays are corvids and some of the world’s most intelligent birds with the ability to make and use tools, imitate human speech, grieve, play games and work in teams.
We play a game with him called steal whatever isn’t tied down and he has quickly plucked sunglasses from the tops of our heads and pencils my husband had tucked behind his ear. He is a generous friend and was always willing to share some of his meal worms with us. Picking them from his feeding dish and flying over to us and leaning his head towards our hands. He gently has eaten, sunflowers nuts and berries from our hands. Taking one at a time and stashing several before eating some. He holds larger food pieces with his foot as he pecks it into smaller pieces he’s able to swallow easier.
His feathers are mostly deep hues of blues along with a white underside. His head feathers, fanned out are black with little white spots. He’s a very handsome guy. He responds to a clicking sound and immediately flies over to perch on our arms, something he learned within minutes of gesturing. He’s a curious little guy and if you’re doing anything in his enclosure, he is sure to observe tilting his head in curiosity of what we’re doing.
We haven’t heard him vocalize very often but occasionally in the morning when we visit, he will make a chirping noise. He loves water and will bath and preen himself regularly. When we have to leave to work for the day, he will sometimes refuse to leave our arms as if to say “please stay.” We visit him as much as possible and think of games we can play with him when we do. He likes bright colored objects and will hide items for us to find. There is no replacement for this little guy, he’s definitely one of a kind, just like the others. Magpies can live for 25-30 years so we look forward to a long and joyful friendship with him.
Despite the fact we are different species, wild creatures are most certainly able to understand love and compassion. Each creature we share this Earth with, are magnificent in their own way and we can be friends of nature in one way or another.
All photos by Jackie Woodcock
Jackie , You never seem to disappoint me with your articles always uplifting and informative , how lucky can one be to be able to enjoy nature as you and your husband seem to do each and every day and how lucky are those that get to enjoy the rewards of what you both have contributed on a daily basis .
This is a lovely piece—thank you for sharing it.
This was lovely, thank you, and is along the lines of a thought I was trying to express earlier but I don’t think I hit correctly.
Animals are sentient beings, and when you treat them as equals they are often quite comfortable and happy to be around you. I believe in this because of my Buddhism but also personal experience. I think that the worlds of domestication and pet ownership *can (but doesn’t always, before anyone @s me) sometimes (perhaps even rarely!) rest on a foundation of inequality and lack of freedom for the non-human involved.
I’ve had deeply meaningful relationships with many animals along the lines described here. It happens to be that none were my pet, they were around, and I felt a deep connection partially because I knew I was not influencing their lives negatively. They chose me as a friend, which I felt was perhaps especially rare, being across species 🙂
Thanks for warming my heart, helping me remember the times when my wife & I have made cross-species connections, one of the reasons we enjoy living in the Adirondacks.
“wild creatures are most certainly able to understand love and compassion.”
Very nice piece I agree! There’s not an animal which doesn’t grab my heart. And most certainly…the above is true. Animals know love and they know danger too. A ray of light the story above…thank you!
Thank you for your work caring for our sick and disabled animal brothers and sisters. I hope we hear more your fascinating experiences
Excellent article! Please keep them coming.
As many people have learned, young animals and humans are often more impressionable and learn more easily than grizzled adults. This is why we have to teach our nestlings that we are part of Nature’s plan – no better than any other organism. Nature is not to be feared, but rather respected. If we teach our young to be comfortable around other beings, those beings will be more comfortable with us – and all our lives will be more fulfilling.
Animals are smarter than we imagine them to be Boreas! Case in point! They are very wary of humans!