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.