Friday, December 21, 2007

The Society of Birds

I thought with the cold weather the crickets would disappear, but they are still here, though smaller and more sluggish. Still, when night falls they come in towards the heat around the unsealed trim boards by the front door. We are planning on contacting our builder to come fix that defect, but for now we crunch crickets at night. Gus has wanted to spray, but I refuse to let him. All we need to do is seal up the house and they won’t gain entry, and I refuse to have chemicals in my yard because of the birds.

For the past week we have had a roadrunner hunting in and around our yard. Last Saturday we came home from errands to find him perched on the block wall in the back yard. This was the first time I had actually seen one in my yard, though I have seen them more recently in and around the neighborhood. To my surprise and delight he jumped down into the yard and proceeded to hunt bugs. With the eye of a predator he watched, lowering his head and tail in typical roadrunner hunting posture. Upon spying an insect he would pounce! Then I’d see him gobble the morsel, raise his head, crest and tail, then scurry off hunched over to another corner again. We watched him for 10 minutes or more before he hopped back over the fence to hunt another territory.

The roadrunner is not my only insect hunter, however. A cactus wren has been hopping about the yard and in and around my patio looking for bugs. This one must be a young one for he has a stumpy tail. It’s like a miniature version of a real cactus wren tail. The bird is also puffed up to a round ball and does not have the typical sleek profile of a cactus wren. It is, however a cactus wren with the long curved bill, the white eye line and the speckled breast over a dark breast patch. I like to watch this plump little fellow hop about the yard in search of breakfast.

Even more delightful are the Gila woodpeckers. This morning five of them flew into the yard to peck at my peanut feeder and eat suet. With this cooler weather they are going through a suet cake every other day. As I watched from my dining area I observed a Gila woodpecker fly to one of the block posts that supports the block wall every 8 feet or so. It grasped the block with its vice-like clawed feet at the top of one block, then proceeded to shimmy down the post looking for insects behind it. Every now and then I would see it probe behind the post with its beak and then the swallowing motion as the insect disappeared down its throat. I swear it was swallowing crickets! Good bird! I’d rather have birds be my exterminators, than a person with a can of chemicals to poison my ground and air. With five or more Gila woodpeckers, cactus wrens and thrashers, and every now and then a road runner, I think I am in good shape.

The birds are such a delight to watch with their amusing antics and their variety of color, shape, and form. Still, one of the hazards of bird watching is window strikes. Anyone who loves birds and feeds the birds hates this by product of watching them. The birds see the outdoors reflected in the windows and try to fly into the scenery only to strike the windows and, either knock themselves unconscious, or fall down dead. I have taken steps to avoid this happening as much as possible but last night as the sun was setting in the west it shone through the transect window over the front door. My hallway is like a rifle barrel to the living room and straight beyond that is the picture window to the backyard patio. Gus and I were in the den talking when we heard the thump! I got up from my chair dreading what I would find.

Sure enough, a male house finch lay on his back on the cold cement. His little feet stuck into the air with clenched feet. For all appearances he was dead, but I had to find out, for if he was still alive, that cold patio would suck the life out of him. Cautiously I went out the door and picked the poor thing up. He was still alive and his eyes fluttered at my touch, but he did not struggle. I cupped him loosely in my hands and sat in a chair lending him the warmth of my own body. Then I sat there and prayed he would live and willed my life into his being. Gus watched from inside the house through the picture window.

The bird sat peacefully in my crossed palms. I watched him breath in and out with shallow breaths. I could feel its tiny claws in the center of my palm. I marveled at the delicate feathers and cursed my aging eyes which can’t see details as well. The bird suddenly extended a wing simultaneously rolling its head and closing its eyes. I breathed in sharply and prayed don’t die! Then it straightened from this contorted posture and seemed to rest there in my palms asleep.

I still had no idea if the bird would live, but I was determined to sit there as long as necessary to keep the thing warm. The sun had set by now and the dusk air was chilling. Gus brought me out a jacket and draped it over my shoulders. He stood next to me marveling at the little bird. Then, unable to resist, he tenderly reached out his finger to stroke the silken feathers. The house finch exploded from my hands and flew over the block wall into the desert! We both ran over to see if we could see him. Along the far wall four house finches and a mourning dove were perched. One of them was a male house finch. Was he mine? I don’t know. All I know is that little house finch survived his window strike and flew away into the desert. Perhaps he is feeding in my backyard this morning. I hope he is.

The birds are good company in all respects. They bring me close to nature and remind me that I am not the only species to occupy this planet. They remind me that my actions do have consequences for good or bad and to consider what I do as I move through life. I enjoy their musical voices in the mornings; their raucous chatter at times. I’m thrilled by the hunt of the hawks and falcons and horrified by the cruelty of nature. Perhaps I need to be. But I will choose this society of birds for what it adds to my life and how it keeps me grounded and connected to this earth I live on and the creator who authors both their life and mine.


Larry said...

What a cool bird to have around your yard.We have nothing of the sort in CT. Nice photo too!

Kathie Brown said...

Larry, it is an awesome bird. I saw it yet again today as it prowled along the top of the block wall. I was born and raised in CT and never saw a roadrunner until last year. They are formidable hunters-amazing to watch. Thanks for your comment!