Bird Hauntings

Decorated initial The Northern Mockingbird who sings every morning just after dawn has, I think, found a mate. Yesterday his song changed dramatically, at least to my terrestrial ears. Before it had been hopeful, excited, lyrical, yearning. Yesterday and today it was nothing short of triumphant, a confident joy.

Two nights running I had a strong dream of me carrying a hawk in my arms. I’m not sure what kind of hawk it is; when I look down, it’s usually huddling in the crook of my left arm, as if it is a little cold or a little afraid. It relaxes when I stroke it.

Then on Facebook, a friend posted a photo of a man cradling a rooster a little too lovingly. Wanted to know if it was me. For several years now, some Internet pals have called me Chicken Boy because the first wedding at which I officiated, I was photographed (in full ministerial garb) standing next to a giant wooden cut-out of a hen in a field. Somehow they leapt from a whimsical wedding on a Vermont mountaintop to a decidedly venal projection of zoophilic desires.

This morning I was walking with some friends at a nature enclave and saw this screech owl, dozing at the door of an owl house.

During this afternoon’s nap I have the hawk dream again.

One of the animals in my shamanic pantheon is Golden Eagle. Of all the helping spirits, he’s the one I haven’t gotten to know very well. Then yesterday, viewing an audio slideshow of an astoundingly beautiful upcoming documentary series, I saw a few photos of men in the Tungus region of Siberia using golden eagles as hunting birds. And suddenly I remembered that the word shaman originated with these very people.

Honestly, I blame Indigo Bunting and her husband for all this. I was relatively blasé about birds until I met them and caught a touch of their birding fever. I’m really not a birder. But I now adore them, especially here in Florida, where on any given day I can see Sandhill Cranes, peacocks, ibises, egrets and herons galore, an anhinga or two, plus all the regular birds spread over a large portion of the eastern US.

And no, I don’t have any idea what this means. Speak to me, birds. I’ll listen to whatever you have to say.

Categories: Birds, Shamanism | 12 Comments

Cuckoos in Florida

This morning I was awakened from one of the most comfortable sleeps I have had in recent memory to the sound of a cuckoo clock. Problem is, the cuckoo clock in my house ran down weeks ago and I stopped bothering to rewind it. And with the windows shut tight, I can’t hear anything from the neighbors unless they’re standing in their yard screaming; I certainly couldn’t hear a clock from inside their houses.

21290778.thmIt was so faint, I thought I might have been dreaming, so I struggled to full wakefulness. Nope, still there. Then I thought that since it seemed to coincide with the tail end of my exhalings, I might be hearing a wheeze from my lungs or something. So I held my breath. Nope, still heard the cuckoo. Could it be the ceiling fan, a ball bearing that is grating on something internal? No, it’s clearly outside the window somewhere.

A real cuckooing cuckoo? In Florida?? Impossible. By the time I was upright, the sound had stopped. A quick Internet search was instructive, though not conclusive: Continue reading

Categories: Birds, Life in Florida | 5 Comments

The India Blue

Somewhere around 1986, when Mom was considering the move to Florida, she and I came down to look for a house. The real estate agent took us to a home painted a chocolate brown—not the prettiest shade compared to its pastel Floridian neighbors. Once inside, we found it had very low ceilings, again rather usual after the cathedral ceilings we had been touring. But the owner, an older gent, a widower, had the windows and doors open, and a lovely breeze was blowing gauzy curtains around rather romantically.

We walked out to the small deck, and were startled to hear the high-pitched and very distinctive call of a peacock. We looked up, and saw one perched in the tree overhanging the yard.

Delighted, we asked if it was his pet. He looked like he wanted to spit. “Damn nuisances,” he growled. “They’re all over this neighborhood. They crap in your yards and make the most godawful racket. I’d like to shoot ’em, but my neighbors would have my head.” As we talked, the bird flew down into his yard, and immediately put up his tail in a grand display. The man cursed again and went inside.

Mom and I were thrilled. The house was not particularly suited to our needs, but the peacock was a definite draw. As we left, we saw several others in the neighborhood, both peacocks and peahens, walking in the streets, nestled under trees, perched on rooftops. Continue reading

Categories: Birds, Life in Florida | 9 Comments

A Note to the Red-bellied Woodpecker Out Back

Let’s set aside, for the moment, the absurdity of your name. It’s your head that’s red; your belly only has a slight tinge of color, and it’s down low and very hard to see. Even Wikipedia calls your name “somewhat misleading.”

But that’s not your fault. This, however, is:

No matter how hard or how long you hammer at the downspout outside my bedroom window, it will never yield up the tasty insects you’re looking for.

Your drilling is giving me a headache. Move on, please.

Categories: Birds, Life in Florida | 9 Comments


This morning, four white ibises, digging with great vigor into a sward of grass next to the road, taking their breakfast al fresco. A little further on, perched on a mound of grasses in the middle of a canal, an anhinga, wings outstretched, gazing off into the distance, the picture of peace. This afternoon, another complex, exquisite mockingbird concert outside my window.

And now, a sudden late-evening downpour. The birds are all settled in for the night. I think of them, imperfectly sheltered from the rain, with no helpful sunshine following the shower to help dry their feathers.

Categories: Birds, Nature | 1 Comment

Return of the Storks

The change of seasons brings a number of different birds to Florida. My favorite of these seasonal visitors is the Mycteria americana, the still-endangered Wood Stork. They live year-round in South America, and come to central Florida to breed. Winter is our dry season, and its prey (fish and frogs and crabs and such) become concentrated in the shrinking pools.

It catches them in a unique way: by feel. They wade patiently through muddy water with its beak submerged and partially open, and when they feel a fish touch their bill, they instantly snap it shut and the poor creature is history. The closing of a Wood Stork’s beak is supposedly one of the swiftest moves in the animal world.

The stork is one seriously Big Bird. Continue reading

Categories: Birds, Life in Florida | 6 Comments

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