Curious Nature: Fearless and faithful fathers in the wild | VailDaily.com

Curious Nature: Fearless and faithful fathers in the wild

Nicholas Scarborough
Walking Mountains Science Center
Canada Goose fathers play an active role in protecting the nest while the female sits on the nest. He also helps in rearing the chicks once they hatch.
Rick Spitzer photo

One of my earliest memories of feeling excited to be in the outdoors was with my dad. He was (and still is) a golf course superintendent, so part of his responsibilities was to make sure the golf courses were healthy, neat, and ready to provide the best experience possible for golfers.

As his son, he made sure that I also had the best experiences possible at the courses, but as a young child, golf seemed like a pretty boring sport. Instead of trying to make me love golf, he showed me what else the courses had to offer, and in this case, it was the wildlife.

Early in the morning, before sunrise had begun to light the pine-bed forests of South Carolina, my dad would drive me in a golf cart around the holes to search for wildlife. With a flashlight, we would see eyes light up during our route.

There at the tee, two glowing eyes revealed a gray fox. At the pond, a shining spot at the water’s edge illuminated the glaring eye of an alligator. In a bunker, two tiny lights showed a shorebird that had decided to make its nest in the sand. The stillness of the humid pre-dawn morning made the entire experience that much more magical for me.

Loyal fathers in the wild

Even though the stereotype that fathers abandon their young holds true in many cases in the animal kingdom, there are several examples of loyal, providing, and attentive wildlife fathers.

A great horned owl father takes on the role of providing for himself and his mate when the mother is incubating the eggs during the cold winter. He hunts rodents and anything else he can catch to feed them both. When the eggs hatch in early spring, the mother stays in the nest with the hatchlings because they don’t have enough down feathers for the first couple of weeks to keep themselves warm. During this period, the father great horned owl provides for the entire family, hunting food for the hatchlings, his mate, and himself.

Father beavers are another example of fathers that provide for and stay with their family. While the mother takes on the critical task of caring for the newborns, the fathers tend to the territory and prepare for when the young are weaned by gathering more food. Beaver fathers maintain dams and lodges, and they collect more branches and twigs to restore the food cache. They mate for life and will defend their families and territories against any intruder. I’m sure they show their young where all of the neat places are within their territories, too.

Even though I was half-asleep during those golf cart tours, the anticipation of seeing wild animals with my dad was worth trying to wake up early. He and my mom facilitated many experiences in the outdoors for my sister and me.

He and I don’t get many opportunities like those anymore, but we still text or call each other to share when he sees a painted bunting at his birdfeeder, or when I see a bald eagle soaring above my group of students at Walking Mountains. When we do visit, we still go out to appreciate nature together, whether it’s at a botanical garden, natural history museum, scenic drive, or a short hike. For Father’s Day, let’s make sure to thank our fathers for the great things they have done for us.

Nicholas Scarborough is a Foley Graduate Fellow and Educator for Walking Mountains Science Center, working toward his MA in Science Education. In addition to working with children, he also loves to paint, write, hike, and ski. You can find more of his writings about nature and art in his personal blog, The Art Outside, at http://theartoutside.wordpress.com.