Another One for the Birds

     There have been so many references to roosters, hens, and chickens in this space lately that I thought a few of my own reflections on birds would be of interest.  No, I said that incorrectly.  I thought they would be of no interest at all except to me, but it’s my blog, and I’ll reminisce if I feel good and like it

     I come from a family of regular birdwatchers.  My parents had their worn copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s guide in the living room to identify unusual guests at the birdfeeders (four outside these windows and about six in the back yard.)  My mother would order me to check out some unknown visitor bird while she called my father at work.  “Does it have a yellow stripe under its eye?” she would ask me.

     It isn’t something I stressed about unduly as a child, but I am completely unfitted for this sort of work.  Yellow stripe?  Under its eye?  That thing’s on the lawn, Ma, in the grass: I can’t even tell which end the head is on.  Even with glasses as thick as hickey pucks, my experience birdwatching was later expressed in a poem with the refrain “I cannot believe, despite all I have heard, that that blob on that branch is a bird.”

     So despite home training and regular visits to a local resident known as the Bird Man, who kept peacocks and other exotic birds in his back yard, my acquaintance with our feathered friends was amiable, but never close.

     Working at a Book Fair inside a library for thirty-five years may not seem an ideal way to watch birds, but for roughly thirty of those years I worked in a large room which, conveniently for me and the donors, opened on the parking lot.  There were benefits to this besides being able to just step outside and unload encyclopedias out of someone’s trunk.  Once when the electricity went out all over the block and everyone in the place was sent home, I just opened the doors and worked by sunlight until I was tracked down and told to scram.  (The open door was alerting the emergency security alarms.)

     However, this also brought the occasional unwanted guest.  Some passing sparrow would see the open double doors and fly inside to see if this was a useful shelter.  This would shut down all operations.  I, personally, do not work well when I am unacquainted with other living things in the room.  Besides, if I opened the door into the library and the sparrow flew into the lobby to register for a reader’s card, I would be in for a long run of meetings, possibly with my supervisors or, worse, with committees.

     Perhaps you’ve heard the folk wisdom which tells us that in cases like this, you need merely turn off the lights, leaving the door open.  The bird will fly to sunlight, unnerved by the sudden appearance of night in this strange place.  It never worked like that.

     The sparrows in question, enjoying the temperature inside the room and seeing night come on, would find little spots to shelter among the stacked boxes of books, or a dark corner of a bookcase.  This made working even more adventurous: nothing like reaching for a book and having something move under your hand.

     So I developed my own system.  Leaving the big doors open, I would move up the ramp to the light switch, and darken the room.  THEN I would start to meow.  I once had a fluent and realistic cat vocabulary.  Many a sparrow decided that between the darkness and the prowling cat, this was a bad bet, and zipped back into the outside world.  Yeah, on other occasions, I would meander through the room for half an hour or so, meowing as the sparrow zipped from one safe nesting spot to another around the room.  Fortunately, no one ever came into the room while I was busy with this.

     Once, the sparrow flew in on a Saturday afternoon, and I had to leave before chasing it outside.  The receiving room was used as a loading and unloading spot by catering crews which handled weekend weddings at the library.  I wondered what THEY would make of the guest.  I found out Monday morning.  Having no skill at meowing birds out of a room, they had taken my stack of paperback romances for ammunition.  The sparrow was still there, but was glad to leave when I opened the back door (no food in this stupid place.)  And it took three years to find all the romance novels that had landed among the ductwork by the ceiling.

     On another occasion I just left, allowing the guest free range in the receiving room.  I heard a flutter of wings and turned to glare at the offending sparrow and found a much larger bird, confused but willing to look around the joint.  I considered the tourist and left him to it.  A curlew, see, comes armed with a long, thin bill about as long as, oh, a small alligator.  I didn’t even bother to meow: let the big thug with the knife find his own way out.

     I also once allowed the Loading Dock outside the doors to serve as a Bird Sanctuary.  During a Polar Vortex, I opened the back doors one morning and found the recycling bins on the dock decorated wall to wall with a puffed-out birds sheltering together from the wind: pigeons and robins and the occasional sparrow.  I looked at them and they looked at me: they had no intention of moving until the sun was fully out.  I just said “Thought you guys flew south” and retired back into the relative warmth before they could try to join me.

     My bastion of books and occasional birds was removed during a Grand Renovation, and now my bird observations are limited to hearing the songbirds in my neighborhood (which sing, in chorus, songs which have recognizable verses and refrains) and even the crows.  Why listen to crows?

     C’mon, you KNOW the answer.

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