Monday, October 27, 2008

For the Birds

By Margy McCarthy

My parents were avid birdwatchers when I was growing up. They still are, but at forty-four I am no longer forced to be still and quiet in the back seat while they pull to the side of the road for fifteen minutes and pass their binoculars back and forth, all the while rifling through dog-eared copies of Roger Tory Peterson Field Guides. Yawn.

I hated birdwatching with the passionate boredom only a prepubescent girl can muster.

My son, on the other hand, outdoor boy that he is, loved birdwatching with Grandma and Grandpa. In his fifth grade year, while studying the states, the class was watching a film on the swamps of Florida and a classmate exclaimed, "Look! There's an alligator!" The class oohed and ahhed, and a few seconds later, Michael called out, "Look! A common moorhen!" Total silence. A few slack jaws.

On another occasion, several years earlier, he'd nearly swerved me into the ditch when a desperate scream of, "Stop the car, Mom! Pull over! There's a black-necked stilt!" erupted from the seat behind me. Once recovered, I had been the slack-jaw that time. A black-necked what? Who is this kid?

When I was in Flagstaff last summer, I did my writing outdoors. I prefer to write outside for several reasons; the main one being that if it's not brain-damage hot, there's nearly always something lovely to rest my eyes upon while thinking.

In Flagstaff it was birds. Eastern bluebirds, woodpeckers, nuthatches, orioles, robins, mountain jays, the noisiest hummingbirds I've ever heard, (bossy, territorial, and aggressive) and a tough-love mother crow and her three young. I wrote ten thousand words in that mountain aviary, proud that I could identify as many of my companions as I did, surprised to find myself proud of that, and pleased to have their company.

Upon my return to the desert I still found myself watching birds. On the mountain, it was hard to tell the mother crow from the babies. They were nearly as big as she. It wasn't until I'd observed them for several days that I saw her feeding them, and by the end of the week, she had stopped. They still perched next to her on the branch overhead- open-mouthed and begging. And she looked back at their pleading faces steadily, without a flinch. I could hear her crow-thoughts. "Find your own food now, baby. You have to learn to do this for yourself." And they did.

Here I have a mother ring-necked dove and her two babies. Their feathers are still fluffy but they can fly; this is their second day out of the nest, I think. They peck around a little, but mostly stare in a dazed way at the world. They don't seem very bright. She comes to feed them, and sit with them, and I think she's saying mommish things like, "There's a dish of cat food over by the house there, honeys, but the kibble is too big for your beaks. You'll have to wait until you're older for that." and "These dried out palm tree seeds are pretty good, but it takes a lot of them to fill you up."

Yesterday Lolita the cat spotted one of the little doves. I told her I would prefer not to see it murdered before my very eyes, but she ignored me. The little bird just sat there, all fluffy and googly-eyed and stupid as the cat inched closer. Just as I was ready to leap at her, in swooped the mother dove, landing awkwardly between the cat and her chick. She threw her wing out of joint and staggered across the yard. Lolita went after Mom, baby took off and perched safely on the back of a wrought-iron chair, Mom flew up, turned around, crash landed again, and drew the cat away.

I was duly impressed with her acting skills. That was an award-winning performance in my book. And I sat here shaking my head in wonder because we moms really are all the same.

"Find your own food now, baby. You have to learn to do this for yourself."

"You'll have to wait until you're older for that," and Over my dead body will you harm my child.

So now I'm wondering if she nearly flies into the ditch when they chirp, "Pull over, Mom! There's a human!"

1 comment:

Daisy said...

It's like the monster who won't go to bed because there might be a human in his closet!