Naturally Speaking

—by Steve Lekwa

My friend, Dean, and I had just come in for a break after completing a wood cutting project. We had barely settled next to their cozy, warm wood stove when I noticed a beautiful adult bald eagle perched on a limb only a couple of hundred feet from their east windows. That eagle was joined by a second only a few moments later. The two of them perched there, shoulder to shoulder, and began to interact. I have been carrying my spotter scope around in the truck for several weeks on the chance there may be opportunities to view wildlife like this. Luckily, the truck was on the west side of the house. I hurried to grab the scope without disturbing the eagles and soon had it set up on their coffee table. The scope (my grandson called it "The Looker" when he was four) allowed us to see the fierce yellow of their eyes as they stared at each other. Each feather on the slightly smaller male eagle’s back appeared to be finely edged with light tan while the female’s were solid dark brown.

We were privileged to observe the intimate interactions of that mated pair of eagles for the next several minutes. They’d face each other, touch bills, and one or the other would tip their head back and call. I wish the windows had been open so we might have been able to hear their vocalizations, too, but it was windy and pretty chilly that day. I have heard eagles before, though, and I could clearly hear their high, squeaky chatter in my mind.

Some large species of birds mate for lives that can last 20 or more years even in the wild. In late winter as the days lengthen, mated pairs renew their bonds in a variety of ways. This annual period of renewed courtship takes many forms. Geese, swans, owls, hawks, eagles and cranes do a lot of mutual calling. This often takes place when, like our eagles, they are sitting or flying close together. Cranes dance together. Eagles and hawks, though awkward on land, take their dance into the sky where they engage in close-formation aerobatics. I once watched a male red-tailed hawk literally fly his heart out as he wheeled, turned, and repeatedly dove past his mate. Their wild screeching calls drifting down from high above added to the spectacle. Sometimes there are quiet moments when the mated pair obviously just enjoy being close to each other. The eagles we were watching might have been holding hands if they’d had them.

A few species of mammals mate for life, too. Fuzzy little meadow mice may not survive more than a couple of years, but they spend that time furiously reproducing litter after litter with a single mate. A young pair of beavers establish a colony that they’ll maintain with their young for as long as they live. Members of the wild dog family often mate for life, too, and mutually defend their territories against others of their kind. Like birds, their bonds are strengthened and renewed by mutual calling. They also play together. Even in a closely knit wolf pack with several breeding aged females, it’s only the alpha male and female that actually reproduce.

We humans could take a lesson from our lifetime-bonded wild neighbors. Some of us may have been "paired" for many years, but our lives and relationships might be enriched if we, too, took the time to engage in some renewed pair bonding. It could be a night out with dinner and dancing. Maybe it’s a night in next to the fire, but interacting instead of just dozing off after supper. Maybe it’s a simple evening walk, or a trip to a favorite place. Mutual calling works for our wild neighbors and is something humans used to do more of called talking to each other. It could even be a few moments of simply holding hands. Whatever form your renewed pair bonding takes, make sure it is done together with the specific intent to remind that life-long mate just how special they are. It’s spring, after a long, cold winter! All nature is about to dance and we’d all feel better about ourselves and each other if we joined in that dance.