Alternative Wheel: Other seasonal cycle stories

When this column started, it was all about exploring different ways of thinking about the wheel of the year, reflecting on aspects of the natural world to provide Pagans alternatives to the usual solar stories. It's still very much an alternative wheel, but there's a developing emphasis on what we can celebrate as the seasons turn. Faced with environmental crisis, and an uncertain future, celebration is a powerful soul restoring antidote that will help us all keep going, stay hopeful and dream up better ways of being.

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Flying the nest

When we talk about flying the nest in human terms, what we mean is a sudden, dramatic exit from a place of comfort and safety to having to fend for ourselves. I find it interesting that this is not what birds do. As it is very much fledgling season right now, I thought it a good time to explore this.

Aquatic birds leave the nest not long after hatching. Fuzzy, excited and with no idea about anything much, they are led to water. Floating comes naturally to them, and momma duck, or in the case of swans, both parents, will get to work teaching them how to survive. Young swans will still be with their parents into the winter.

Other birds have to wait for flight feathers before they can leave the nest, although their flying may be minimal – as in the case of baby owls I have observed. Again what happens here is that fledglings leave the nest with their parents, and go about with them being fed and learning how to feed and how to do all the other things they need to know about. Again as many birds are gregarious (it’s safer that way) young may stay with their parents until the start of the new breeding season, or in the case of birds who operate in flocks, they may always be loosely together. It takes hunting birds quite some time to develop the necessary survival skills, they certainly aren’t ready to go it alone when they fly the nest.

The nest is of course the place of early life, security, and food coming to you. Not that the nest is a place of absolute safety as many predators are looking for the easy meal of young birds. Many birds will never get as far as to leave the nest under their own propulsion.

There is a little bit of drama in that first flight, but less so when it’s not framed by commentary, background music and a sense of artificial peril. Nature programs tend to focus on the dramatic, and that can be misleading. I’ve seen it only once in real life, more times on nature films. The first flight is not big, and no more dramatic than is essential, though. A glide to the nearest branch. For the first few days fledglings may stay close to the nest and food is still brought to them.

I find it curious that we’ve taken ‘flying the nest’ as a human metaphor for dramatic upheaval. It doesn’t reflect what birds do. It also doesn’t reflect what most gregarious mammals do, either. For most creatures there is a long and necessary transition between getting out of the birth space and being able to live independently.



Art on this blog post is ‘Peffa Oidy witches’ – image by Tom Brown based on the Matlock the Hare series by Phil and Jacqui Lovesey.

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Nimue Brown is the author of Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors. Pagan Dreaming, When a Pagan Prays and Spirituality without Structure. She also writes the graphic novel series Hopeless Maine, and other speculative fiction. OBOD trained, but a tad feral, she is particularly interested in Bardic Druidry and green living.


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