Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: To help or not to help Mother Nature

By STACEY COLE July 13. 2018 9:30PM
 (Metro Creative Connection)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Saturday, Dec. 1, 1973.

Recently I gave one of my nature talks for the Lancaster Unity Club. In visiting with the members and guests prior to my presentation, one of our good readers told a rather touching tale.

She said she was looking out of her window one day when a female downy woodpecker came crashing against the glass and fell face down on the porch floor, and lay there unconscious. While she was debating as to whether or not to go out and try to revive the bird, two male downies appeared in a nearby tree. One of them flew immediately to the female and began pecking her with his bill. The other male appeared to be standing watch in the tree. Finally he was able to turn the female over and he stayed with her until she regained consciousness. Then, together, they flew away.

Most of those of a scientific mind warn against the translating of animal behavior into human terms. And, for the most part, I must agree that this can lead to inaccurate assumptions. However, from my many years of wildlife observation I am convinced that not all animal behavior is instinctive, but rather upon occasion they do things for pure enjoyment or because they are moved to do so. I believe the latter was the case in this story of the downy woodpeckers of Lancaster.

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A good reader in Durham decided to let nature take its course, as you can see by her letter:

“A few years ago during the winter when the snow lay deep, I had a female evening grosbeak who had a useless wing. I could have caught her easily as she hopped through the snow to take abroad. She was very clever and after a few days climbed up a tree and took a slanting flight into the evergreen trees which surround my yard. I noticed that she did not feed with the other grosbeaks but came by herself to my feeder.

“Then I had to go to Florida and would not be here to feed the birds. I decided to let my female grosbeak fend for herself. When I returned after three weeks she was here to greet me and could now fly about as well as the others. If I had banded her I would know if she returned next year, but I do not believe in banding birds as I could never see what it did for the birds.”

I think our reader used very good judgment in not taking in a bird that could get along. Mother Nature is a fine healer all by herself.

If birds are properly banded by licensed banders they are not injured or harmed in any way. The band is so tiny it doesn’t bother them and it does give man a great deal of information as to migration patterns, longevity, weight, measurements and other information which is now being recorded.

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There are times, though, when Mother Nature needs a helping hand, as pointed out by this good reader in Hollis:

“Eight years ago I raised a pair of robins that were shaken out of a nest at school by a naughty boy. I took them to school with me every day with their hamburg and earthworms and fed them every recess and noon hour. How they grew! Contrary to all books, I gave them water twice a day from a teaspoon. There were always eager to get it.

“Elvis (because he shook himself so much) and Minerva (because she seemed so stately) soon feathered out. A very interested third-grade pupil spent much time trying to teach them to fly and providing them with angle worms. I couldn’t find a bird bander so never knew for sure what became of them when they left in the fall. Sometimes when a big fat robin comes hopping up near my port door I wonder if Elvis or Minerva has come to call.

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at

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