This morning I came to a startling conclusion: it’s all Tim and Kathleen’s fault. Every bit of it. Well, them and my now-long-dead Nana. I honestly had no interest in birds until they came along.
Nana—my maternal grandmother, Dorothy—arose at dawn and would spend an hour each morning at her kitchen table in front of that huge bay window, sipping impossibly weak coffee, reading her well-worn Bible, and communing with God by listening to and watching the birds that she saw in her vast yard.
Kathleen and Tim were the first true birders I ever met, and though I’ve since met some who are more obsessive, few have as much love for birds as they do. For years I treated their interest in winged fauna as just an interesting quirk, something that added to the richness of their personalities. (One of Tim’s pet names for Kathleen is “Bird.”)
I’m not sure when that interest started rubbing off on me. Perhaps it was the picnic beside Sligo Creek when we saw a Pileated Woodpecker hammering away above us. Perhaps it was Vermont’s Black-capped Chickadee-dee-dees with their late winter song, an out-of-tune, whistled fee-bee. Or maybe the Red-winged Blackbirds with their distinctive conk-a-ree!
But I know the deal was sealed for me when I heard my first Barred Owls, one of them in a tree just above me being answered by another across a little valley. I remember thinking the bird must have started out in the Deep South, because it very clearly says, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” (The Barred Owl may also suddenly break into demonic screams punctuated by maniacal laughter. Or it may mutter in churlish tones, “Old fool, old fool, don’t do it, don’t do it.”)
Of late, the birds seem to have made me their own pet project. Mr. Cardinal is a daily visitor to the hibiscus bushes outside my bedroom and office windows. If I don’t stop and pay attention to him as he sings and chirps, he actually taps on the glass to get my attention.
They seem to be commanding my attention in other ways, too. I hear a hawk, and understand instinctively that he’s issuing a threat call, warning others to stay away from his family’s nest, high in a radio tower. Or I’m in conversation with friends at a café, but get distracted by faint bird-chatter; I strain to hear it, and imagine that if I listen carefully enough, I’ll be able to understand their words.
I’ve even begun dreaming about them. Two nights ago it was dozens of small puddle ducks swimming happily in floodwaters, and Snowy Egrets and Scarlet Ibises wading around, oblivious to the natural disaster that had befallen the dreamscape. The next morning, as I was getting in my car, the sky was suddenly filled with a massive flock of tiny black migratory birds.
But as much as I appreciate the birdlife here in Florida, I think the neighborhood rooster that started crowing at 2 a.m. last night, and did not stop crowing until 5, crossed a line with me somewhere. He had a lovely, distinctive voice, to be sure; his crow was unusual, and I appreciated his vocal prowess. Just not all night long, thankyouverymuch.
Around 6:30, other roosters started crowing. Mind you, the area I live in is terminally suburban. There are no farms nearby. Now, one town north, in West Melbourne, there used to be something called the Melbourne Poultry Colony, but the colony has long since disappeared, and is now just the name of a local neighborhood association. So where in the world did all these roosters come from? I counted five distinct voices, coming from five different areas. And they were all calling to one another, announcing the dawn and sounding mighty pleased with themselves. But I have never seen any chickens in the neighborhood, so where they live, exactly, is beyond me.
Right now I’m listening to a Fish Crow outside my window. He’s saying “Uh-oh!” over and over. Maybe he knows I’m planning to have chicken for dinner, and is worried for the neighborhood roosters.