Writing a column about birds is like working in a welcome center on an interstate highway. People ask you questions. Only instead of asking where to buy cheap gas they ask me questions about birds.
This year, I answered questions about penguins’ knees, road runners, pink flamingos, and my favorite bird. There is one more question in the 2012 stack. It came in last week from a young man who has to be my youngest reader: “Why was the stork chosen to deliver babies to their families?” This one is a fitting way to close out 2012 and get a good start on 2013.
Like many of our legends, the stork thing started in Europe. Storks winter in Africa but return to Europe every spring to nest on the roofs of farmhouses. Spring is a time of birth in Europe: baby cows, baby horses, baby goats, and the occasional baby troll are born in the spring. And in olden days many continental farm couples hoped to have their children arrive in the spring so they would be big enough to help in the fields by summer.
Storks are big, powerful fliers and can easily carry even the biggest baby. Other birds that return to European farms in the spring, such as swallows, are only able to deliver very small children. And everyone knows very small children aren’t well suited for farm work. A stork’s long beak is also an advantage. Storks can pick up the babies by sticking that beak through the babies’ diapers. That is very important because for hundreds of years the EPA has required that all babies wear diapers while being flown over populated areas.
Storks eat frogs, mice, snakes and even young birds. So new babies are being delivered by flying carnivores – an interesting thought. It should be noted, however, that there is no record of a stork ever eating a baby.
Through the centuries, many different methods of delivering babies have been tried but the stork has consistently proved to be the best courier. Australia tried having kangaroos deliver Australian babies because the pouch was assumed to be a comfortable way to travel. However, all the jumping caused way too much motion sickness. And any parent knows most babies don’t need a reason to spit up, so the kangaroo method was abandoned.
In this country, we tried pelicans for a while. Pelicans seemed like the perfect baby carrier. The babies could ride in the pelican’s big, roomy bottom beak and would not even need to wear diapers. And if it rained, the kids could simply shut the top beak and stay dry. But parents complained about the fish smell on their new children. And since babies have enough odd smells anyway, the pelican idea was eventually dropped. Even UPS gave baby delivery a shot but they had a problem with the shipping labels falling off.
During my research, I found many examples of competing baby delivery methods but the stork always won in the end. And judging by all the school buses I am constantly getting stuck behind, they do a great job.
Happy New Year.
Tate is a Carrollton resident and bird enthusiast.