For the Birds Radio Program: Slow Down! You Move Too Fast (Re-recorded)
(Simon and Garfunkel–beginning of “The 59th Street Bridge Song”)
Spring in the Northland is blessedly long–it starts at the first serious snow melt and lasts until June. New life is surging all around us, but most people are too busy to enjoy it. Just about everyone notices the first waves of migrants to course through–that first robin is a sign of hope for the most urbane among us. But in our fast-paced modern life, hardly anyone takes a close look at robins.
Most people don’t even know how to tell a male robin from a female. It’s not too hard if you take the time to look. A male robin’s plumage is brighter, the colors more intense. The head and tail are black, the back grayish black, the breast brick red, the throat a sharply- contrasting white with rows of black spots. The female robin’s head, back, and tail are brownish gray, her breast is pale, like a brick that has faded in the sun, and her throat is not so prominently speckled. The male has noticeable white feathers around his eyes, like spectacles; the female’s eye ring is not as prominent. And the male’s beak is brighter yellow. The robin is one of the most abundant native birds in the Northland–and it’s Wisconsin’s state bird, to boot. It’s one of the first birds a small child learns–yet hardly anyone could draw one from memory.
No matter where you are, there are probably at least a few birds flying overhead right now. Have you ever noticed how a crow flies with slow, steady wingbeats that you can count? Grackles fly in level flight like crows, but their wingbeats are just a bit too rapid to count. Red- wings have quick wingbeats too, but they undulate in flight. It doesn’t take much practice to distinguish among blackbirds flying in a mixed flock–if you slow down long enough to look at some. Starlings have short, pointed, triangular wings with silvery undersides–their star- like silhouette in flight gave them their name. Flocks of starlings fly in perfect unison, wheeling about with a grace no mere human could have choreographed.
Pigeons are flying around the Duluth harbor at this very moment, pulling their wings into a perfect V and banking side to side with swirling air currents. Nothing else in the world flies with the joy and abandon of a common old city pigeon.
Don’t keep your eyes glued to your wristwatch or on that car or jogger in front of you–you’ll miss more than blackbirds and pigeons– you’ll miss the geese. Geese often call from the air–but they’re just as often silent. They fly in a V, shaped like the wake of a boat. The lead bird slices into the air, and the others follow in the path of least resistance. But that lead bird gets exhausted quickly–it’ll drop back and one of the others will take over usually within the time that they’re in your view–if you bother to watch for more than a moment.
Great Blue Herons fly over often, too. They’re huge birds with long, rounded wings that curve down. They rest their head, with their long, heavy bill, on their shoulders as they fly. These are just a few of the visual treats awaiting you, if only you open your eyes to the riches all around.
That was Simon and Garfunkel singing “The 59th St. Bridge Song”, this is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”