Home Schooling, Nature’s Way

During the long, brutal school board campaign, I had no time to partake in one of favorite pastimes – photographing birds in action. Each year for the last 15 years, I have tried to visit the Audubon Society’s Smith Oaks Sanctuary at High Island at least once a week from mid-March to mid-June. Yesterday, I went there for the first time this year and spent three glorious hours in the afternoon with my Nikon and thousands of waterfowl at various stages of life.

In the rookery, you can see what is easily the most spectacular display of nature in the Houston area. Thousands of herons, egrets, spoonbills, cormorants and other waterbirds gather each year to pair, mate, and raise their young. Within three months, they are usually ready to venture off on their own and repeat this cycle of life again the next year.

Beginning in March, birds congregate there and begin their courtship displays. The male does his part by building the foundation of a nest with giant sticks. Once a male and female pair up, the male gathers smaller sticks that the female weaves into a nest. By early April, the mating has started and the females are laying eggs. The male and female then take turns guarding the nest while the other forages for food. By mid-April, chicks are hatching out. The parents then need to step up their fishing to feed the hungry young. Back at the nest, the adults regurgitate their fish straight into the mouths of the young. The young grow quickly.

By early to mid-May, they are fighting for food and climbing to high limbs to strengthen their wings. By late May, they are taking short flights near their nests from limb to limb. In June, they attain the size and strength to fend for themselves. One day, they fly off and leave the nest, not to return again until the following year. Then, as adolescents, they watch and learn from the adults in the rookery. It’s home schooling at it’s finest. All without vouchers or school choice.

But woe be to any bird that fails a test. Nature shows little mercy.

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