Little birdie told me to pay attention

By Lindsay Slogrove Time of article published Jul 31, 2021

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LOOKING and seeing ‒ the difference was emphasised this week by a little bird.

First, it did a lounge fly-by, lingering only long enough to give me a near heart attack. Before what was happening had fully registered, it found the open window and was gone.

The next day, there was a fluttering noise in an adjacent room, and I went to investigate.

There he (or she) was, sitting on the back of a chair right next to what is probably the only window permanently closed to protect a lovely fern.

It was stuck, jumping between the chairback and the window sill and glass. I was terrified it would hurt itself or the dogs would be alerted and come a’hunting. Armed with only a T-shirt used for on-again-off-again thermoregulation, I stalked the poor little thing, thinking I would have to throw it over him/her for a gentle catch and release programme.

It was clearly scared and breathing fast, but, keeping an, err, eagle eye on it, I was able to get close enough to flip open the window and it fled.

The next night, I caught movement on the floor in a doorway and there it was again. This time it remembered its way out the back door and took off without incident.

But the weirdness was I had no clue what my new little visitor was. On my capture stalk, I never took my eyes off it. I was looking and looking, and less than 50cm away from it when I opened the window. All that registered was its fear, the need to free it and dread that it would hurt itself.

As a newbie birder, I failed the “seeing” test dismally. I noted only that its tail was fairly substantial and was rufous, as was its body, and head. No idea of leg or eye colour, and a lingering idea that it was a bit bigger than a sparrow. I knew I hadn’t seen one before and was just relieved it got out. I also noticed it went to the ground, not into one of the many trees that could offer it a haven. So much for that new hobby. I checked my new bird app but I had little to go on and could not identify it. Paging, bird-by-bird through a bird book, the closest I got was a red-capped robin-chat.

It reminded me that we look but do not see; hear but not listen.

Humans are such vocal and visual creatures, but how often do we miss the details of a message or a sight? Based on couch science, I’d say a LOT.

We look at the cars around us when we drive, but we sometimes don’t “see” the car coming too fast in our direction, until it’s too late.

Our children, partners, friends or colleagues may be sending important messages to us that we don’t hear, often because they struggle to say the hard words. In these tough times, when it’s even more important, it’s easy to be so overwhelmed with life that we forget to listen and see.

A little birdie told me: we really need to up our game in the paying attention department.

  • Lindsay Slogrove is the news editor

The Independent on Saturday

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