Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Backyard birding - What I’ve Learned from Birds - South Burlington, Vermont

Thinking back on when my dad died; it was as if all the birds stopped singing. After listening to his laborious breathing subside then stop, my ears heard silence like never before.  I think of life differently now!

Once billions of Passenger Pigeons darkened the skies for hours at a time as an unending ribbon of life twisted, turned, fluttered, and flew, on and on almost unending. How could one imagine that one day billions of these life forms would die down to two, then one, then none? The death of 3 to 5 billion Passenger Pigeons -all of them-gone, was the result of human exploitation. A death, a single voice absent from the chorus, is hard albeit natural-and inclusive. 

Extinction of any species is as if all birds stopped singing-forever. Passenger pigeons define for me – the need for sustainability, or at least the reason to strive for sustainability.

This winter a southern visitor to our backyard, a Carolina Wren- 
tells me Vermont’s winter may not be the harshest, thus driving some populations northward. Still I wonder how comfortable these fair weather birds feel when our warm winter suddenly reverts to traditional knee-deep snowstorms, and arctic temperatures. 


In winter, I give up my bike and revert to walking wherever I go. However, Ice storms and deep chill deplete my bravado for car-less travel. That is when I think of my southern visitor, barring the cold, patronizing my seed and suet restaurant, voicing a loud 3-part phrase like “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle”; reminding me when it’s cold, to put on the tea kettle; spring will come. In the mean time, enjoying the company from our southern visitors warms me up from within.

The neighborhood Nuthatches feeding in our yard remind me that I have always wondered where and how peanuts grow. 
Nuthatches 
inform me with their nasal ank ank as they barrel downwards-headfirst down a log plugged with peanut-butter suet packed in dime-sized holes. Translation: “Everybody knows peanut-butter grows on trees.”  The nuthatch uses its talent and long nimble beak to extract a peanut out of my peanut feeder and looks up at me cocking its head up and sideways wondering how I manage to find my food. Peanuts, the bird advises, come out of these wooden and glass houses like bubble gum machines. Thanks to Farmer’s markets, and my Nuthatch friends, I am learning where food comes from, gaining an appreciation for the work and talent needed to acquire healthy food.

Chickadees,

on the other hand, teach me how to burn as many calories, if not more, than I input. First, they never sit still-even for a moment. The only way to get a photo of a chickadee is to push the button before you see the bird, and hope it moves into view when the camera shutter opens. Once a chickadee takes hold of a black oil sunflower seed-which by the way is much bigger than its beak and mouth-the calorie burning work begins. Opening the seed is, for the chickadee, like us eating lobster-lots of work for a morsel of food. 

Goldfinches looping flight is like gold stocks; they drop as though they are falling from the sky, then rise as though on a volcanic up thrust. 
Though their golden yellow fades during winter months, they flock at backyard feeders in the bullions – or at least dozens.  Goldfinches remind me though the sun may fade, or fail to shine some days, time will restore the warm gold rays.

Help keep our environment pristine-pick up litter wherever and whenever you see it. You will enrich birdsong -or so a little birdie told me.