For the Birds Radio Program: Wild Eider Chase

Original Air Date: Nov. 14, 1988

What is it like to have a birdwatcher for a mother? Laura Erickson tells the sad but true story on today’s “For the Birds.”

Duration: 3′49″


(Recording of a King Eider)

One of the great tragedies that a small child can face in life is having a bird-watcher for a mother.

A case in point happened just twelve days ago, when I decided I couldn’t survive one more day knowing there was a King Eider swimming in the Grand Marais marina, just 110 miles away. I’ve never seen an eider, and the thought of a life bird so near was more than I could stand. So I told my three-year-old Tommy and four-and-a-half-year-old Katie to pack up a basket of toys and we would go for a nice ride looking for a duck.

Now, if I told you that we were going to spend the next seven hours in a car on a wild goose chase, you would have given me a dead stare and told me what I could do with my duck. But Katie and Tommy are little enough to still believe that Mommy knows everything, so they happily gathered Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Tommy’s purple Psitticosaurus, and Katie’s pink panther into their baskets, expecting a jolly good day.

It has never occurred to Katie or Tommy that it is even possible to ride in a car without a car seat or seat belt, but they somehow keep happy and busy with their basket of toys and their Raffi tapes playing constantly. The purple psitticosaurus sang along in a voice suspiciously like Tommy’s.

Suddenly a hundred Snow Buntings fluttered up from the roadside, and Katie added them to her list. Yes, it’s true–this sweet little child has started keeping a bird list, imitating her mother’s habit the way my own childhood friends played with candy cigarettes. An adult Bald Eagle flew right over the car, and Katie got a good look—that was another bird she needed. Within the next five minutes we saw three more eagles, and all told we saw seven on the drive. We also saw lots of Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks. But only an adult suffering from a debilitating monomania can enjoy watching birds for an entire two hour drive—Katie and Tommy quickly resumed their dinosaur game.

We finally made it up to Grand Marais, and the moment I jumped out of the car, the tripod for my spotting scope completely fell apart. Tommy refused to come out of the car, because he hates cold and wind, but Katie took a cursory look at the waterfowl in the marina—Black Ducks, wigeon, Buffleheads, goldeneyes, and even a Blue Goose and a coot. She was very polite, but the only ducks that interested her were Mr. and Mrs. Mallard—a pair of ducks that seemed to be exactly the ones in the book Make Way for Ducklings. Tommy was having great fun playing with Bunter and climbing over the seats.

Meanwhile I was getting more and more agitated as I realized that the eider was nowhere to be seen. A birder from the Twin Cities had seen it less than an hour before we got there, but by now the bird had disappeared. I kept watch for two-and-a-half hours as the kids ate a picnic lunch in the car and played some more. We found a bathroom for Katie, and came back to the harbor for a last desperate look, but it was getting late and I was coming to realize that the bird was not going to reappear. Tommy napped a little on the long drive home, and we finally pulled into the driveway after dark. I felt pretty low about the whole fiasco, but Katie consoled me, saying she didn’t think it was fair that she got so many new birds on her list and I didn’t get a single one. She’s far too generous spirited to ever write a “Mommie Dearest” expose’ of me, but she will certainly have volumes of stories to tell about her very own Mother Goose.

(Recording of a King Eider)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”