Bird Medicine: Gathering Insight

“Listen to the voice of nature, for it holds treasures for you.”
~Native American (Huron) Proverb

Like many spiritual initiations, signs and messages in a quest often begin the moment one steps onto the trail. Over twenty-five years ago, I took off for my first solo vision quest in the northwest mountains to find direction for my life’s work.

I had barely begun walking toward my quest site before I ran into a raucous scene. A noisy flutter of wings swooped overhead and crashed against the branches of an adjacent fir tree. The big bird flapped, cawed and tottered awkwardly on a branch 40 feet above my head. At first I thought he was a raven, acting goofy as ravens sometimes do. I thought the wide fan of his tail looked rusty red, and rows of brown and white stripes on his chest. His beak hooked sharply. He seemed big enough to be a red tail hawk, too big to be a Cooper’s or sharp shin that might live in the heart of the forest. His odd, squawking vocalizations didn’t sound like a red tail. I shook my head in confusion. This forest was too thick; the red tail was out of place. Red tails typically hang out by the edges of fields, meadows and roadsides. I’d never seen one inside the forest before. Even if he was a Cooper’s, and he must have been, he was acting mighty strange. I stopped in my tracks.

The hawk swayed unsteadily side to side on the branch with one eye telescoping back and forth toward me, then turned to fix his other eye on me.

“What?” I asked, looking up at him.

hawkHis gaze pierced through me while his whole body tottered like a drunk man, ready to fall over. I’d only seen hawks poised motionless on fence posts or treetops, ready to plunge down on rabbits and field mice. This one looked crazy, maybe poisoned. Injured? Possibly damaged from vertigo or a neurological illness?

“Do you have a message for me?” I asked.

His upper body keeled forward, almost falling off the branch while his talons held tight. He dropped nearly upside down and his wings batted and crashed against the smaller fir branches to upright himself and steady his balance. A second later, he rocked forward and back on the branch, gyrating and bobbing his head and shoulders in a semi-circle like Stevie Wonder at the piano.

baby hawksI scratched my head. Was this a clumsy adolescent recently fledged? Or was he guarding a nest or distracting me from a nearby kill? The hawk kept his eye on me, continuing to sway and right himself up again.

“Is there something wrong with you? Do you need help?”

He sat upright, motionless and turned his head to look at me with his other eye. Fire glimmered in his gaze. He perched taller, turned his head again, looked at me one last time and softly pushed himself into flight. His launch barely moved the branch. Wide wings yawned open in the small gap between the branches. Two easy flaps and he banked himself through a series of narrow turns toward the open sky. His elegant, smooth arc took my breath. In seconds, he was gone.

There was nothing wrong with this hawk’s flight, but his atypical behavior haunted me throughout my quest and has ever since. I started my quest with a determined, narrow focus on getting to my destination. If the hawk hadn’t made such a noisy approach and displayed such crazy antics, I might have missed the entire encounter.

Perhaps this bird reflected my own “adolescence in awareness” at the time — still developing my ability to speak, balance, stay upright and navigate through the world. From that day, I began to cultivate my awareness to the messages from nature and my ability to observe, listen and learn.

The practice of noticing something “odd” in the environment or in another human being can bring insight. While I observe people’s movement patterns in my work with the Feldenkrais Method®, nature has become a primary teacher for refining awareness to move through life. Birds have a way of calling to us; pointing to food, shelter, water, friends, predators and changes in the environment. They have always been beacons of awareness and a symbol of freedom.

Our environment is changing rapidly over my lifetime. Navigating through a global warming crisis, declining natural habitats and terrorism requires expansive awareness. The health and actions of the birds reflect the state of affairs on the planet. Our bird species are severely threatened with toxicity and dried migratory paths, with more species facing extinction. I believe the birds have much to teach us both as a society and individually about, survival, direction and balance. Next time you need insight in your life, consider the counsel of birds and other relations in nature to help steer you along your path.

Annie Thoe leads a nature and Feldenkrais retreat this March:
“Bird Medicine – Open Vision, Voice and Wings,” Duvall, WA
For info or to register: or

Bird Medicine: Open Your Vision, Voice and Wings>/h3>

baby hawksWith Annie Thoe
Feldenkrais & Nature Awareness Teacher
March 3-6,
Mosswood Hollow Retreat Center, Duvall, WA

Thurs Eve – Sunday 4pm
Duvall, WA – 45 min from Seattle
(Shuttle Service From Seatac Airport Available)

Click Here for More Information and Registration

Lift your spirits and nourish your body. Learn from the birds how to expand our vision, hearing and senses to the environment. Guided Feldenkrais lessons and earth-based activities will tune your body, expand freedom in self-expression and insights for direction. Gently open eyes, shoulders and chest for greater freedom and ease of movement and voice. Open your creative flow.

About Annie Thoe

Annie Thoe, GCFP is a master practitioner and teacher of sensory learning from Seattle. She combines her clinical work of the Feldenkrais Method® with her naturalist education to move beyond injury or limitation toward one’s dreams. Her guided audio or video lessons are available at:

2 Responses to Bird Medicine: Gathering Insight

  1. Deborah says:

    We have numerous birds here too, tonight there was a blue heron, making an arc across our path. He was generous, and shared his wing span in full extension. He was framed by the trees in his world. It was a magic moment.

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