Nourishing and Nurturing in the Animal World
By Awake! writer in Spain
HUMAN parents often dedicate some two decades to child-rearing. Many animals, on the other hand, must provide their offspring with a complete program of feeding and training within a few brief months of summer. A few examples will serve to illustrate the formidable task that some animal parents face every year.
1. White Stork The stork in the accompanying picture has no time for a summer break. With hungry adolescent birds to feed, it must make constant trips to the nearby lake in search of frogs, small fish, lizards, or grasshoppers, apart from repairing the nest from time to time. Both parents come and go constantly throughout the day. The young birds eat enormous amounts of food. Why, during the first few weeks, they can consume half their body weight each day! Even after they have learned to fly, young storks continue to depend on their parents for several more weeks.
2. Cheetah Cheetahs are invariably single-parent families, and it is the mother who cares for the cubs. She needs to find prey nearly every day in order to nourish herself sufficiently when suckling her young—usually three to five cubs. This in itself is no easy job, since most hunting forays end in failure. Furthermore, every few days she has to move her family to another den because lions are always on the lookout for vulnerable cubs. Once the cubs reach the age of seven months, she starts to train them to hunt for themselves, a time-consuming process that takes another year or so. The cubs usually stay with their mother for one to one and a half years.
3. Little Grebe Grebes and their young are practically inseparable. As soon as the chicks hatch, they abandon their floating nest for the comfort of their parents’ backs. The chicks climb onto the back of the adult, between the wing and dorsal feathers. There the chicks find warmth and protection while mother or father swims around. The parents take turns diving for food and carrying the young. Although the chicks soon learn to dive and to feed themselves, the bond with their parents continues for some time.
4. Giraffe Giraffes rarely have more than one offspring at a time, and it is not difficult to understand why. A newly born giraffe, like the one seen in the accompanying photograph, may weigh up to 130 pounds [60 kilos] and stand six feet [2 m] tall! An hour after birth, the young giraffe is on its feet and is soon suckling its mother’s milk. It will nurse for nine months, although it starts to graze not long after birth. When danger threatens the young giraffe, it positions itself between its mother’s legs, since her powerful kicks provide excellent protection from most predators.
5. Common Kingfisher Kingfishers have to be both efficient and selective when catching fish for their young chicks. Ornithologists have discovered that both parents feed the newly hatched chicks with small fish that measure less than an inch [between one and two centimeters] in length. The parent carefully carries the fish in its bill with the head facing out. That makes it easier for the hungry chicks, as they can more readily swallow their food head first. As the chicks grow, the parents bring in slightly larger fish. The parents also gradually increase the feeding rate. At first, each chick is fed about every 45 minutes. But when the chicks are about 18 days old, they have quite an appetite, receiving a fish meal every 15 minutes! The young bird seen in the picture has already left the nest and will soon be fishing for itself. At this point you might assume that the parents would take a welcome break from child-rearing. But not kingfishers! They often start the whole process again with a second brood during the same summer.
Of course, many details about the way different animals care for their young are still unknown. Yet, the more naturalists discover, the clearer it becomes that parental instinct is a powerful force in the animal world. If God thus endowed his animal creation, surely he likewise wishes human parents to provide their children with the nourishment and nurture they deserve.