By Ana Veciana Suarez.
“Look! Look!” I call out to The Hubby, sotto voce.
He tiptoes out to the backyard, where two cardinals perch on a hedge of areca palms. The male, a flaming red, ruffles his feather. His mate observes him, unimpressed (or so I think). We stay quiet, motionless, until they fly away.
I’ve become fascinated by birds during the pandemic. Not the rare creatures of aviaries and zoos, but the pedestrian kind who frequent my yard. I watch them, I listen for them, I joyfully share pictures with family when I’m fast enough on the smartphone draw. This new obsession speaks volumes about my life in this time of caution and worry.
There seem to be so many birds around, so much chirping and calling and singing. Such beautiful music outside at a time when everything inside (both literally and figuratively) appears so quiet. Is this how it always is? How have I not noticed it before?
I spend most of my day indoors, in front of a computer. The only music I hear is the rhythmic clacking of my fingers on the keyboard, sometimes in adagio and occasionally (if I’m lucky enough to be inspired) in allegro. Before the era of COVID-19, the most excitement I experienced involving a bird was with a blue jay that liked to sit on the ledge of my office window. To not scare it away, I’d freeze in my chair and stare.
Now, we’re all about the birds. I finally understand why so many of our idioms have to do with birds. Bird’s-eye view. Eagle-eyed. Early bird. Night owl. A little bird told me. Two birds with one stone. However, I do object to these: birdbrain and for the birds. No, absolutely not, birds are neither stupid nor worthless.
At any rate, I don’t want to come across as a dedicated bird-watcher, because I’m not. Birders, with their binoculars, field guides and notepads, are truly devoted followers. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t even classify myself as an amateur. For one, I know the names of only the most common birds in my region. Secondly and thirdly, I don’t keep track of how many I’ve spotted and I am embarrassed to admit that I can identify only a handful by their calls.
Yet, here I am insisting we get a feeder, one that we can set high enough — two stories up, if necessary — so the neighborhood cats, many of which are feral, don’t hunt them down. And whenever I’m outside, which is a lot more often these days, I’m on the lookout for my winged friends. That’s how I see them now. Friends with backstories and family issues and complicated airborne lives.
I know, for example, the impertinent blue jay who appears to be the boss of the block. He’s noisy and sometimes he sits atop our child pool fence bristling that crest on the top of his head. I wonder if he has a mate, or even if he is a he.
We also have a red-headed woodpecker who hammers away at a neighbor’s dying tree every morning. I figure she’s a busy working mom, who rises early to bring home the grub and then returns to the nest for the second shift. And, of course, there’s the cardinal couple that never seem to be too far apart from each other. Just yesterday, I observed them pecking at each other and sharing what I think might have been a worm picked from our flowerbed.
Local news has never been more important
A flock of adolescent ibis stops by occasionally, to root through the neighbor’s emerald lawn, and we often hear the coo of a mourning dove, or two or three or 10, sounding melancholy and yearning. Such a peaceful call in a world turned upside down and inside out.
It’s amazing to me that, even as we humans wrestle with a once-in-a-century killer, these birds appear oblivious to our dysfunction and ugliness. They continue to fly, continue to sing: a wonderful antidote to both the news and the nincompoops in Washington.