For the Birds Radio Program: Birding Anywhere
(Recording of a Merlin)
One of the pleasures of birding for a hobby is that is can be taken anywhere. Many sporting hobbies must be played on an appropriate site– one could hardly swim the breaststroke on a bobsled run, or practice tennis serves on a track course. Running requires proper shoes and the appearance of not really being in a hurry–after all, no runner wants people to think he’s escaping from a policeman or an awkward domestic situation.
Some hobbies require competitors or partners–it’s hard to fence or play bridge or scrabble alone. Astronomy requires a clear night sky. Wildflower watching ends with the first snowfall. But birding can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime, alone or with companions. Face a window and you can take to the sky with pigeons and swifts right in the middle of the most tedious meeting. Play golf, and even if no one scores an eagle or a birdie, there’ll be plenty of real birds to distract and delight. Back in my junior high teaching days, more than one kettle of Broad- winged Hawks out the window released my students and me from the intricacies of long division, at least for a moment. Once birds permeated my awareness, I found myself with new eyes and ears. Eating lunch outside Sir Benedicts I automatically filter out traffic sounds– my mind registers chittering chimney swifts and a distant yellow warbler even as I chat with a good friend. Not even sleep takes away this awareness. I don’t wake with the first noisy crow of the day, but a whip-poor-will or a softly calling owl can rouse me from deepest sleep.
With an awareness of birds, the most boring speaker in a windowless lecture room can hold interest. She may use some of the countless avian expressions that enrich our language, like “in one fell swoop,” which is derived from the flight of falcons, or she may crane her neck, tell a cock-and-bull story, and cook her own goose. If she lays an egg, so much the better. Then the audience may give her the bird–that expression came from the British expression “to get the big bird,” referring to a hissing goose. If she’s chicken-hearted, she’ll leave, crestfallen. Then I can return to my nest, free as a bird, or go larking about.
A walk in any neighborhood can reveal all sorts of unexpected avain surprises. When I went around the block with my own three fledglings last week, I discovered a pair of Merlins, small falcons that used to be called pigeon hawks, nesting right on Peabody Street. These rare birds are noisy and tame–real child-pleasers. A block further we found a nest of downy woodpeckers being fed by their mother. And heading back toward home we found two baby chickadees which flitted right up to us and quivered their wings. They seemed to be expecting us to feed them. But one of their parents quickly and indignantly intervened. Apparently even baby chickadees are warned not to speak to strangers.
(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)
This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”