When I came home from work the other evening and opened the gate to the small courtyard in front of our house, I was greeted by this mass of feathers on the bricks. I looked around for a bird–or more accurately, a bird’s mortal remains–but they were nowhere to be seen.
The array of feathers itself tells part of a sad tale. Some poor bird evidently breathed its last on our little walkway, and the feathers indicate that it only occurred after a serious struggle. I would guess that the bird was jumped and brutally attacked by a predator–a cat, perhaps–the feathers flew, and after the bird was defeated the cat trotted off to do what it will with the bird’s carcass, leaving only the pile of feathers behind. That’s a bit strange, though, because I’ve never seen a bird land in that area, and I also haven’t seen any cats or other bird-catching creatures in our dog-oriented neighborhood. An alternative explanation would be that the bird was captured and killed somewhere else, and the assailant brought the body through our fence to perform the defeathering at its leisure before heading elsewhere. Of course, we’ve never had anything like that happen, either.
It’s weird and disturbing to think that some poor bird may have spent its last moments in a desperate struggle for survival on the bricks of our tiny courtyard. I’ve now respectfully disposed of the feathers.
Here’s what I consider to be pretty much conclusive evidence that the behavior of creatures is not solely determined by genetics, and that environment has an impact: Caribbean birds. St. Lucia, the southern Caribbean island we are visiting, has many familiar bird species, but the conduct of the birds is definitely different from the conduct of the birds of the Midwest.
This pigeon-like bird rested on the guardrail of our cottage, about a foot away from me, for a long time this morning. Unlike jumpy central Ohio birds, he didn’t flutter off at any movement on my part. Instead, he confidently strutted up and down the railing, eyeing me with apparent disdain because I wasn’t eating anything that would yield a crumb or two for him to seize. His pugnacious attitude reminded me of the tough-guy pigeon gangs you see in New York City, or Paris.
The pigeon’s haughty ‘tude, however, was nothing compared to the sparrow-like birds that hang around the breakfast patio. Those little guys hop closer and closer to the food on the plate, undeterred by repeated shooing, until they finally dare to perch on the side of the plate and take a nibble of a half-eaten pastry. And when guest rise from their table, the birds descend in force and tear away every scrap of food they can get in their beaks like they own the place.
In the Midwest, birds are timid creatures who don’t want any part of interaction with humans. In the Caribbean, birds are aggressive in taking what they want, whether humans are nearby or not. And I have no doubt that if you transported Columbus birds to St. Lucia, they’d get roughed up a bit by the natives at first, but then would quickly learn that if they want to rule the roost, they’d better adopt the Caribbean approach and take what they want.
Our cottage in Maine is built into a steep granite hillside that tumbles down into the western end of the Stonington Harbor. As a result, our deck is at the treetop level of the pine trees, birch trees, and even a buckeye tree planted on the the hillside down below.
That means that we get a bird’s-eye view (pun intended) of the birds that call Greenhead peninsula home. And because we are on a coastline, there are lots of birds, and an interesting mix of different species at that. We get seagulls coasting in on the ocean breezes that land nimbly on our tiny chimney, cawing crows and ravens that add a touch of noise to the foggy mornings, an occasional hawk, wrens and sparrows and chimney swifts, robins forever hunting for insects and worms in the downyard area, and gray doves that like to take a dip in the waters of the little creek that runs down the hillside.
But our favorite feathered friends are the brilliant blue jays that swoop in on the updrafts and like to perch in the trees right at our deck level, so we can get a good look at them. They are beautiful birds, with their bright blue plumage standing out from the green leaves of the trees, and instantly recognizable both for their color and for their distinctive tuft of feathers on the crown of their heads. The blue jays move briskly from tree to tree, apparently scouting for something with their lightning quick, quirky nods and other head movements, and then they are gone in a flash of blue across the landscape.
An elevated deck that allows you to do some casual bird-watching is a nice feature at the end of a warm summer day.
I was walking through the Golden Hobby parking lot recently when I passed this car parked in a spot near the building. As I noticed the car’s ridiculously speckled status, I reflexively squinted skyward to make sure that I wasn’t about to be dive-bombed by a squadron of our flying feathered friends. Fortunately, there wasn’t a bird in sight.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a functioning car in this condition. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an abandoned car in this kind of shape, with dozens and dozens of avian deposits marring its paint job.
I found myself wondering: where could this poor driver have parked that would their car in such a state? Kish and I park in the Golden Hobby lot from time to time and have never had this kind of problem, and I’m confident I’ve never seen other cars with a similar pattern of countless bird droppings in the lot. I therefore conclude that the poor driver parked somewhere else, returned to find their car a very public testament to the gastrointestinal irresponsibility of the bird set, and then experienced the humiliation of driving to German Village without going to a car wash first. It’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t immediately go to a car wash to remove the droppings before they left permanent marks, but perhaps car washes aren’t “essential businesses” these days.
But the fact that the car came from somewhere else begs a highly significant question: where could this person have parked their car that could leave it in such a state — and for how long? Is there some kind of secret pigeon sanctuary somewhere in central Ohio? Or do Columbus birds just have a deep and instinctive dislike of this particular brand of Chevrolet sedan? Or could a flight of birds simply have wanted to engage in some long-range bombing practice and decided to use this unlucky vehicle as their intended target?
These may seem like minor issues with all of the big matters that are occupying our attention these days, but it’s the little things that are within our control that can really make a difference. Wherever this person was parked, it is unquestionably the worst parking space ever, and I want to be sure that we never, ever park our nice, gleaming car there and return to find it in this kind of shape.
This lovely snowy egret, white feathers ablaze in the bright sunshine, walks the beach with a stately, deliberate grace and a commanding gaze — its attention all the while directed at the surf, and detecting fish that might be caught unawares.
It’s a beautiful bird. The fact that it’s a ruthless hunter, too, just makes it all the more interesting.
One of the more adventurous birds in the mountains around Lake Arrowhead is the Steller’s Jay. It’s a pretty blue color with a high tufted crown — and it loves peanuts. The CSIL spreads peanuts in their shells on the deck, and the jays drop by to grab a peanut, take a few hops, and fly to a nearby tree to extricate the nut from the shell before coming back for more.
A powerful set of rainstorms rolled over our neighborhood overnight, leaving the ground wet and the air with that light, crisp, delectable, freshly washed feel. Taking deep whiffs of the air the morning after a Midwestern summer storm is like crawling into a bed made with freshly laundered sheets.
I poured myself a cup of coffee, from beans just ground by Stauf’s, and padded out onto our back porch, where the neighborhood birds were putting on a musical performance, free to anyone who cared to listen.
Sunday morning is a good time to drink a fine cup of coffee and listen to the birds. There’s no traffic on Third to increase the level of background noise, and you can hear the different birds, with their different, melodic calls, distinctly. It is so quiet and peaceful that you can hear the chirps and songs of birds in the distance, answering the calls of their brethren, and when the birds take a brief break, the absolute stillness feels deep and almost palpable.
Suppose, for a moment, that you are in a strange town on a business trip. Suppose that, in the eerie twilight, you are walking back to your generic motel room after having consumed a forgettable meal served by a forgettable franchise restaurant, along a busy commercial thoroughfare with telephone wires overhead. Suppose you hear an odd fluttering noise, like a random displacement of air, when suddenly you look up and see that every square inch of telephone pole and wire is covered by a roiling mass of indistinguishable black birds that don’t seem to be doing anything except creepily perching in this spot for reasons known only to their tiny, alien, nictating bird brains.
Oh, yeah — and suppose when you were a kid you stupidly watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds on late-night TV and ever since you’ve been secretly terrified by the possibility that your eyes will be pecked out by evil birds in a strange town — probably after you have to put up with tiresome lectures by some bird know-it-all woman wearing a beret.
Yes, you’ll sleep well tonight, experiencing the wonders of business travel. At least you haven’t seen anybody in a beret . . . yet.
It’s spring, so of course we’ve got hatchlings at the Schiller Park pond. A family of Canadian geese has a brood of four goslings who have been strutting their stuff, to the delight of their proud and protective parents and passersby alike.
The brown goslings are almost unbearably cute, and their tumbling and waddling as they follow Mom and Dad around is fun to watch. Soon they’ll be losing their downy coats and will emerge as full-grown Canadian geese — one of the most aggressive, loud-honking, crap-anywhere-and-everywhere, obnoxious species of birds that you find around these parts.
Today two birds decided to roost for a bit on the ledge right outside the window in front of my desk. I’m not sure what kinds of birds they were — mourning doves? brown pigeons? — but I certainly understood their impulse to bask in the sunshine and enjoy some long overdue spring weather.
I would gladly have been out on the ledge with them. Today was the kind of day where, in elementary school, you’d beg your teacher to let you sit outside for the math lesson — and the kind of day where a teacher sick to death of gray, chilly weather might just say yes.
A trainer had a bald eagle at the dinner function we attended tonight, and I was stunned by its size — and its magnificence.
For the most part the bird was hooded, but from time to time the trainer removed the hood so the eagle could scan the room. What a stern, penetrating gaze! You could easily imagine the cowering feeling that prey might have when fixed in that steely glance.
Who doesn’t like birds — at least, birds other than pigeons? They are pretty and colorful, they add happy chirping and warbling to our world, and they are a pleasure to watch as they soar, dip, and dive and make us wish we could fly, too.
But birds have a big problem. Every year, millions of them are killed in urban settings for reasons collectively known as fatal light attraction. They become disoriented by the mirrored surface of an office building, believe the reflection of a tree is the real thing, and are killed by the resulting collision. Or they think they have a clear flight path to the tree and pond in the glass-walled atrium and fatally crash into the unseen window. If you’ve ever seen a bird strike a window — from inside or outside — and heard the terrible hollow thud the unfortunate bird makes you probably won’t forget it.
Scientists also worry that the bright lights of cities may be altering migration patterns because the lights interfere with the bird’s ability to navigate by starlight. In addition, bird deaths from fatal light attraction interfere with normal evolutionary processes. Whereas survival of the fittest is supposed to mean the genes of the strongest, healthiest birds are passed to the next generation, death from a window collision can strike down even the healthiest of our flying friends.
Right now, there’s a bird outside my window, chirping with pleasure as dawn approaches. Fewer soulless mirrored buildings, an end to generic office building atriums, and turning off bright lights during the early morning hours — which presumably would be a financial and energy savings, too — so that birds can migrate safely seems like a small price to pay to ensure that we can continue to enjoy their sweet morning song.
Last night it was warm enough for us to risk sleeping with the bedroom windows scrolled open. By the time this morning rolled around, we were treated to a clean, freshening breeze and the delightful sound of birds singing and chirping to greet the new day.
After a long, cold, seemingly endless winter, I’m not sure which was more welcome, but we were glad to have both of them. When you’re cooped up all winter long, the air in the house grows stale, and a morning breeze that brings in fresh air is as much a part of spring cleaning as a broom or a mop. And during the winter our avian friends are nowhere to be seen — or heard. The return of birds, and their birdsong, gives us hope that springtime is here to stay. It makes me feel like going outside, putting my toes on the cool grass, and letting loose with a chirp or two of my own.
Our path to last night’s wedding reception at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium took us past the flamingo enclosure. I haven’t been to the zoo in years — having kids who are grown will do that to you — and I had forgotten just how brightly colored and ungainly flamingos are. The birds pranced and preened, squawked, unscrolled their necks and dipped their beaks into the water, as I enjoyed the vivid pinks.