I’ve never really considered myself a bird person. In my younger days, “bird watchers” came across to me as old busybodies who when not peering at birds with binoculars were peeping toms looking into their neighbor’s windows. Or they were these weird eccentrics who possessed a secret knowledge of migratory patterns and avian behavior. These people definitely weren’t “cool” in my book. And the only birds I cared about at that time were sports team mascots.
But during the past few years, I’ve developed a strong appreciation for our fine feathered friends. And one event in particular has helped me crystallize my thoughts and feelings concerning birds in general. There is a local grocery store I frequent quite often where trees are interspersed in the parking lot providing much needed shade from the hot Texas sun. The trees also provided sanctuary for a tremendous amount of grackles. In fact there were so many at times, it looked like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. I would find myself standing in amazement at the mass congregation and possible apocalyptic gathering of the tribe. Urban/suburban areas are becoming less bird friendly - green space being replaced with retail and office development. It reminds me of the line from that old Joni Mitchell song, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” And what little bit of landscaping and tree planting being done is woefully inadequate as to what it replaced. Often non-native plants and trees are used which require more care and maintenance and do nothing to entice birds and wildlife to visit. Empty storefronts are even worse – plants and trees are not maintained at all. It may takes months or years before new inhabitants set up shop. But one thing is certain, it will never go green again which leaves less and less space for birds to gather and nest. Ecosystems are disrupted which causes long term damage to humanity.
Because of what I can only guess was complaints from patrons of the aforementioned grocery store, the trees were uprooted. Yep, they were there one day and gone the next. They did such a good job, you couldn’t tell that trees were ever there just the tell tale sign of bird crap residue left behind. I’m sure customers weren’t happy about having their cars carpet bombed with bird feces. No worries now. Something’s been gained, but something’s been lost. Now the parking lot conversation consists of the banal conversation of bread, milk, meat, and eggs. When I realized what happened, I felt at a loss and began to some extent experiencing the seven stages of grief. I had arrived. I was becoming a bird person. I wasn’t a full fledged member of The National Audobon Society yet but my transformation was almost complete.
But really my conversion had started earlier in the year. I began noticing the cardinals, robins, and various other birds I couldn’t identify flying into my backyard and woods. I intently watched the grace and beauty of the hummingbird. I observed a woodpecker at work. I heard the hoot of an owl. And for the first time I remember I looked up and saw the geese flying south for the winter. Of course they were always there, but somehow I was able to view things with a fresh approach. I even stopped cursing our backyard chickens and began seeing them in a new light. I’ll definitely see them in a better light when they start producing eggs. Then I read artist and painter Balazs Szabo’s true children’s tale Tweezer Beezer with my kids and discovered the huge impact an extraordinary pet Mynah bird can leave upon a family.
Many thanks to those organizations and foundations which maintain wetlands and bird habitats/sanctuaries throughout North America. Their continued vigilance and dedication will be increasingly needed in a nation hell-bent on losing woodlands and prairies to commercial development. Bird is the word.