For the Birds Radio Program: Walking to School

Original Air Date: Oct. 4, 1993

Whether contemplating video games or lawn ornaments, Laura’s observations are always for the birds. (3:32) Date confirmed.

Audio missing


One of the pleasures of this stay-at-home mommy is walking my kids to school. When the morning goes exactly right, we leave at 7:30. It’s only two blocks to Joey’s school bus stop, and then Katie, Tommy, and I continue on to Lester Park School on our own.

Morning walks afford us quiet and interesting discussions. Tommy and I mostly debate a pressing issue of avian taxonomy: are the Koopas in Nintendo Mario Brothers games reptiles (turtles to be specific), or are they ducks? These little bad guys do have a shell, but in the Super Mario Brothers game they can climb in and out of it, which no turtle can do. They move about the screen like swimming ducks, and some sprout wings complete with feathers, so I maintain that they simply must be birds. But Tommy thinks the fact that the Nintendo literature calls them turtles clinches his argument. Since I have never yet met a computer game designer or Nintendo player who was also an ornithologist, except myself, I don’t think the Mario game booklets are convincing evidence. Since neither Tommy nor I are willing to budge on this matter, our discussions may last until the cowbirds come home.

Katie and I talk about what she wants to be when she grows up. Right now she can’t decide between being a teacher, a writer, a zookeeper, and a concert pianist. When a Sharp-shinned Hawk flies over, which happens often because we live under Hawk Ridge, we always change the subject to how we hope this hawk isn’t going to eat one of the birds at our feeders. We also hope that Sneakers the Blue Jay doesn’t see it and get agitated while we’re gone. Sneakers once watched a Merlin eat a bird, and ever since then, she’s squawked whenever she spies any hawk out the window.

After we finally reach school and I surreptitiously kiss them goodbye when none of their friends are looking, I’m on my own for the walk back home. Now I concentrate on the birds in the neighborhood. So far this fall I’ve had Pileated Woodpecker, Winter Wren, a dozen species of warblers, and zillions of sparrows and robins. A goshawk flew over once, and an eagle, and a few broad-wings, though most of the hawks I see are sharpies.

On rainy days, there aren’t many real birds about. Then I study the neighborhood lawn ornaments. We have no fewer than four plastic lawn flamingos on the 7/10s of a mile stretch, along with a big loon planter, several ducklings cut from plywood that look pitifully flat from head on, a Brown Pelican carved from a log, several cardinals, and a Red-headed Woodpecker. The strangest one of all combines the bill of a woodpecker, the body of a duck, the colors of a sparrow, and the wings of a whirligig. Lawn ornament designers and Nintendo game inventors have more in common than most people realize.