The comment came at a recent dinner party as the six of us sipped wine.
“I feel like birds are kind of the rodents of the sky,” my good friend said, rather suddenly. Everyone laughed but me. I drew in a breath of horror.
“No, no! Birds are amazing,” I sputtered. “Turkey vultures can fly without flapping their wings and chimney swifts build their nests on the side of walls with nothing but their own saliva. You see, their legs are too weak to stand upright, so they have to build vertically oriented nests.”
Blank stares all around the table.
The me of two years ago would have laughed out loud. Who cares about birds? They’re loud, annoying, ugly and dirty.
This is the folly of people who let the reputation of pigeons speak for the entire bird kingdom.
My love affair with birds began with a simple trip to the hardware store. I had heard somewhere that goldfinches would come to your yard if you put up a special feeder with a particular kind of bird seed. I wanted to see if this was true, since the picture I saw of a goldfinch looked to me like a tropical bird you’d buy in the pet store and teach stupid tricks to.
I hung my new birdfeeder just outside my window and waited. The birds will be along any minute, I decided. Ten minutes and no birds later, I got up, having decided I had just wasted forty bucks.
But several days later, I heard my husband call out to me excitedly. “I think there’s a bird on your birdfeeder – it’s bright yellow! Does that sound right?”
“Yes,” I explained in a know-it-all tone. It’s called a goldfinch.” Duh.
I tried to hide my excitement as I ran to the window. My eyes widened and my mouth dropped open. It really was bright yellow – and it was feeding upside down, which only goldfinches can do.
Next came the bird books, the bird society memberships, the birding trips and the $300 binoculars.
Birds have an amazing range of capabilities. The wandering albatross can have a wingspan of more than eleven feet and can sleep while in flight. Ostriches can run 45 miles per hour. Migrating birds fly thousands of miles each season. Chimney swifts can mate while flying. The peregrine falcon is the fasting living animal – it can swoop at up to 168 miles per hour. Take that, Mr. Cheetah.
Birds are everywhere. All you have to do is open your eyes and ears. Chances are you have an owl that sings to you every morning, provided you don’t drown him out with the sound of “newscasters” telling you how to save money on designer clothing.
I believe that birds remind us to live in the now.
And the best thing about birds is so obvious it gets overlooked. They have an ability we reserve only for our superheroes: they can fly.