For the Birds Radio Program: Lazy Summer Days (Placeholder)
What’s it like to sit out in a backyard with a baby crow and two nighthawks?
July 1992 may have been the coldest ever in the northland, but there were some darned pleasant days in there, too—lazy summer days with the soft wheezing of Evening Grosbeaks in the box elders and the sun warming my back lawn. I sat out on the grass many afternoons with nighthawks and Patty Cake the baby crow soaking in the sunshine.
Fred the nighthawk, who has lived with me for fourteen months now, likes to doze in the sun for a tie, and then retreat to the shade beneath the crabapple tree. Fred likes independence, and often waddles off on his own. One day a Merlin flew over the lawn, and Fred hightailed it right over to me, crouching beneath my legs for many minutes after the danger passed. Most days, he stays up to ten yards from me for a while, but then gets lonely or restless or whatever nighthawks feel in such circumstances and suddenly waddles up close to climb up on my lap and sit quietly.
Ginger, the nighthawk with the head injury, has felt pretty poorly all summer, but her spirits revive quickly in the warm sun.
Patty Cake, the baby crow, can think of no greater fun than looking through the grass for bugs. Patty’s legs were so crippled from rickets at first that she was rooted to one spot. But she didn’t just sit there feeling sorry for herself. The one thing that is true of every injured bird I’ve ever had is that they concentrate on what they can do, never on what they can’t. Patty built up the strength in one leg, and now pretty much keeps all her weight on that one, using the still-crippled one for balance. She could fly across the lawn long before she could stand up. The problem was, without functional feet, she couldn’t land on anything and kept crashing horribly until I clipped the feathers on one wing Her feathers are so poor from bad nutrition that she wouldn’t have been releasable this summer anyway. By the time she molts next year, she should be using her feet just fine.
Patty has developed a lot of curiosity about nighthawks, but the nighthawks want no part of her. When she limps up to Fred, he hisses his displeasure in no uncertain terms and runs through the grass away from her. Ginger can’t see Patty approach on her bad side, but she can hear her galumphing through the grass. Ginger’s hiss is a lot quieter than Fred’s, but Patty respects it nonetheless. Patty looks so huge and awkward around the little nighthawks, but so eager to please and confused about why they don’t like her—she reminds me of Lenny in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Of course, as I sit out in my yard enjoying the idyllic summer day, there’s plenty more to see than just my own babies. Cedar Waxwings flycatch daintily from the dead apple tree. A flicker yells out from next door, and is answered by one on the next block. A robin family raids our raspberries. A chickadee family drops in for some pleasant conversation and a bite to eat. A goldfinch family gathers at the niger seed feeder. And a kestrel weaves and dives in the sky above, perhaps an early migrant, perhaps a young bird looking for a good place to hunt.
Summer days are too precious to waste griping about the coldest July on record. Each day is golden, but only ripe for enjoyment once. Like wild nighthawks, summer will be retreating in a few short weeks. Enjoy it while you can.