Instinct or Mother's Love?


After concerns earlier in the year, Osprey did nest in her usual spot and produced, I think, one baby. Fall is fast approaching and mom has been stepping up baby’s hunting lessons, much to the displeasure of her child. It is after all much easier to be fed than to hunt.


 I was considering how hard it must be to be baby Osprey. Young Sparrow merely has to wrestle a seed off an inert stalk to get a meal whereas Osprey has to locate a surface dwelling target, chase it down, calculate an equation to capture it – and the prey is IN THE WATER – sometimes at a depth of 3 feet! And baby Osprey is in the air around 100 to 130 feet from the lake surface! No small task. (Did you know that the average time it takes an Osprey to begin a hunt and capture a fish is 12 minutes? Makes my fishing look a bit inept.) So it is no wonder baby Osprey can be found in his nest, begging mom in loud squawks when she returns with a fish and calmly eats it herself despite her child’s temper tantrum. Occasionally, she gives him a tidbit.


Yesterday afternoon I saw the pair circling over the river. Mom and baby were hunting. A few minutes later baby must have found a target because he dove into the water with gusto, mom watching proudly from the air currents above.  But baby missed his chance and came up empty- but right behind him was mom and she captured that sizable fish. (It was amazing how fast it happened! The stuff I would miss if I didn’t watch nature!)  Mom flew to her usual place in a cottonwood tree, followed by the inexperienced hunter and gave the fish to her baby.  


Did mom give her child the fish because he was getting really hungry? Or to encourage him, telling him he had made a good try. Or was it, as so many want to refer to it, as instinct?


Instinct in the animal world is very prevalent and we need only look to our own species as proof. Surviving is primal. Protecting a child is instinctive. Fleeing from a fear is a learned instinct. There are all sorts of instincts, but it does not follow that everything we do is instinctual and so that line of thinking extend into the rest of the animal world, by logic if nothing else.


As Human Beings, we seldom endow the rest of the animal world with the characters, emotions, thinking, and desires we ourselves possess even when we can see it. We would rather downplay these observations as an anthropomorphize rationalization led by the heart. But they are real. Someday science will prove it and it will change our worldview, though proof isn’t truly required.


We only need to watch mama Osprey helping her son with his first catch to know there is a lot more going on there than instinct.