What do birds have to do with authentic travel? Writing this blog has crystallized my belief that authentic travel is just as much about the traveller’s state of mind as it is about the destination. Authentic travel requires one’s full presence. I know this is happening for me when I slow down enough to watch the animals in a place. Think back on your own memories of a great trip, and you might recall how local animals added to the ambience. From the fluttering of the pigeons in that stunning Venetian piazza to the street dogs in the sleepy Mexican town you backpacked through, to the feral cats who charmed you out of the last bite of fish from your sidewalk cafe meal in Greece, animals are a small but delightful part of daily life on great trips. (They also tend to be less present or even absent from the more theme-park like travel experiences.) Birds make for especially interesting slow-down-and-smell-the-roses experiences.
Crows, magpies, ravens, and other corvids are integral to cities- annoying, captivating, and sometimes terrifying the odd person who gets too close to their nests in Spring. I loved watching Rome’s hooded crows on an extended visit. They reminded me of portly middle-aged men wearing vests (or waistcoats to the Brits). Of course, those same Roman crows weren’t quite so amusing when one of their number attacked some peace doves being released by Pope Francis (see a great article on why this happened here ).
Vancouver’s crows are moderately independent by day, but anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 of them congregate before twilight in a massive squadron to fly eastward to their sleeping place (to learn more click here ). Vancouver also has a celebrity crow named Canuck, who has become quite habituated to humans. To learn more about his involvement with a crime scene, click here. To learn more about Canuck generally, click here. And in London, England there is a great affection for, and willingness to help, injured corvids, through the Crow Rescue team (click here ) of London Wildlife Protection ( visit website here).
But it’s not just crows you will see on your urban travels. In a number of North American cities, bald eagles are making a surprising comeback, in part because they have great scavenging skills, and have clued in that in some communities they can have it all: fishing and dump-raiding. To read more about this phenomenon (and see video footage, click here). They have been spotted in Vancouver (click here ) as well as Boston (click here ).
Turkey vultures may not sound like a bird conducive to pleasant travel, given that they eat carrion and their presence may signal something dead and decaying nearby. But these birds are extremely useful in local ecosystems, by getting rid of waste; and their glide is breath-taking to watch. These birds are visible throughout much of North and South America (to learn more from the Audubon Field Guide, click here ). I had a lovely recent encounter (from a safe distance) with a rescued turkey vulture named Judge Dread at a raptor sanctuary near Duncan, on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. He was quite beautiful in flight and showed off his running skills (just because he felt like it).
To see “Judgie” in action, along with other rescued owls, eagles, and some captivity-born raptors like falcons, visit The Raptors (for website click here). I’m not normally a fan of keeping wild animals in captivity, but this centre does a marvellous job of allowing the birds to display natural behaviours. These are working birds, with fulfilling lives, at a biologist-run facility. The same centre supplies raptors to keep coastal airports (including Vancouver’s) naturally free from songbirds that would jeopardize aviation safety.
Watching the birds in any place you visit can be a marvellous way to feel centred and connect with an important aspect of real life in communities. For added pleasure, and easy recognition, consider reading up in advance on the local birds you’re likely to encounter. Also consider ways your own behaviours at home might impact your local bird community. Regardless, making time and space to cast your eyes skyward will add depth, beauty, and connectedness to your visit.