Saturday, November 24, 2012

Feathered Friends

"Look at all the birdeeeeeeeees!"

I can still hear Meggie exclaim one of her favorite phrases.  Whenever she saw a bunch of birds, she would get all excited, point at them and demand, in her very Meggie way, that we look at all those birdies!  She loved the birds.  Their colors.  Their movement.  Especially when they'd flock together and land in our yard.  It was hard to tell who was more excited, the cats or her!  Of course if we were outside, her exclamations would immediately scare them off, prompting a petulant "Where the birdies go?!"

I guess it's not at all unusual she loved birds.  One of my first memories as a child was my mother sitting by the window in our little apartment house in the wee hours of the morning.  I was maybe five or six.  She'd have her bathrobe on and a cup of tea in her hand.  There was a little nook where the radiator was.  She'd sit there every morning on the kitchen chair and watch the birds.  She would tell me their names.  I was fascinated there were so many types of birds and that she knew their names!  Who knows this stuff?

As I grew up, I remember how she loved those birds.  She always had a gazillion feeders and she kept them filled year round.  In the winter, the first thing she'd shovel was not the driveway, it was a path to the bird feeders!  By then, we'd sit by the window together, in our bigger but still modest home and watch the birds, along with the family cat(s).  I learned their names and could identify them myself.  My father made up silly names for all of them.  My favorite to this day for the woodpecker is "little pecker red head".

My uncle Dino had a way with the birds, too.  He knew them all.  He knew stuff about birds even my mother didn't know!  He had a gift with them.  They'd have all this bird conversation no one but they understood.  He was the hummingbird whisperer. To this day, whenever I see hummingbirds, I think of him.

My mother's best friend was an expert on birds of prey.  She knew everything about owls.  I've taken an interest in them over the past few years.  I love hawks.  I am fascinated by owls.  I'd love to watch bald eagles.  They all seem so wise, so graceful, so peaceful.  OK, until they attack their prey, but even that is the circle of life and amazing to behold.

When we were in Ireland a few years ago we took a 'hawk walk'.  We spent 90 minutes with an expert in Harris Hawks during our stay at Ashford Castle.  Just the three of us and two hawks.  It was absolutely amazing.  It was the highlight of our trip (apologies to Paul and Kara, whose wedding we were there to attend.  It was an amazing wedding, but OMG, the hawks were a dream come true for me).
We learned so much about them and even watched them hunt.  They flew freely to and from us (for raw meat, of course) and when they passed us walking through the woods they were absolutely silent!  I could've spent all day with them!  This is a squinty-eyed picture of me with my hawk.  Look at those talons!!

We also visited a bird sanctuary in Ireland.  These were a few of my favorites.

Now, one of my favorite ways to spend a morning is to sit by our bay window with the cat or my youngest son and watch the birds.  Cup of tea in hand.  Most enjoyable as the sun rises and warms the earth and the cat and I through the southern exposed window.  I have several feeders throughout the yard, most in view of this window.  I spend way too much money on bird food.  It's fascinating to watch them flit about.  To observe which birds prefer which type of seed.  The work it takes the chickadees to get a sunflower seed, fly to my lilac bush (right next to the window) and repeatedly bang it on a branch until it breaks.  Repeat.  Over and over.  I love how 'tuft', the tufted titmouse, comes to the window feeder and has learned the cats cannot get it through the glass.  I swear, the bird torments the cat on purpose.  It's hysterical.  I now know their names and refer to many of them by my father's 'pet' names for them!  My youngest son loves to sketch them.  He has an amazing talent for drawing birds.  I enjoy photographing them.

OMG, have I turned into my mother!?!?!?  :-)  Fear not, I will never shovel a path to the feeders.  I may trudge through the snow, however.  More likely, I'll just open the door and toss handfuls of seed on top of the snow.  I'm kinda lazy like that.

It's meditative in a way.  If you watch them, it's soothing.  The way they communicate effortlessly.  They look out for each other.  Well, the little ones seem to have a clique to oppose the bully blue jays and crows, or 'lawn chickens' as my mother refers to them.  They even line up on the deck railing to take turns at a perch! The way they glide through the air with graceful arcs.  They seem to be having fun.  There is a sense of playfulness.  Their ability to transcend earth and sky.  Watching the hawk glide and circle and then perch high in a tree. The epitome of wisdom and grace.  The way the parents share equal responsibility for making the nest and raising the young, giving them flying lessons and motherly bird scoldings for their own safety. I find watching them brings a sense of calm and peacefulness.  It always makes me happy.

Then there are the wild turkeys.  Oh, they provide much laughter.  They wander through the yard.  They munch on seed on the ground or berries.  They literally try to jump to reach the ones beyond the stretch of their neck.  Often clueless if they just moved a few feet in either direction, there were some in easy reach.  They wander in circles.  They chatter.  It's just fun to watch them.  Even though they ate some of my flowers!

When the flock of brown headed cow birds flies in and lands in the yard or I see all those birds lined up on a wire somewhere, I hear a little voice that exclaims "Look at all the birdeeeeeeees!"  I smile. It reminds me of my Meggie.  It gives me hope she has 'wings' now, too.  That she can fly effortlessly transcending earth and sky into eternity.  I'm sure she'd be a pink bird.  With sparkles.  ;-)

Our feathered friends have much to offer us in bird wisdom.  The importance of flocking together.  We do need our family and friends to survive in life.  It takes a village...The importance of building a good and safe nest or home.  The importance of family and working together to raise the young.  Most birds are monogamous.  The importance of singing and using your voice.  Finding a wholesome meal to give us energy to survive.  The fact that we are diverse in size, shape and color  and even perceived beauty, yet we can coexist peacefully and even look out for each other.  The reminder that we can be both grounded on the earth and touch the skies, perhaps not physically as humans, but certainly spiritually.

Sometimes, it's the simplest of things that provide the most joy and insight.

What have you learned from the birds?

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