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Bird Watch

It's Bird Heaven in my back yard this morning. After all the cloudy gloom we've had in the last few days, the sun is shining and birds are caroling their guts out. I need to get off this keyboard, go outside, and just sit. Sans phone, laptop, or paperback book. --Well, maybe a book can come too. Or the Kindle...

But I've never seen so many birds, not in years. There are trees in my back yard and there've always been trees; this isn't the first-ever springtime in this neighborhood, nor will it be the last; but birds of all species have been visiting my lot like mad things since last autumn. Or maybe I'm just looking up more and paying more attention. Could be. Having broken my left wrist in October, there weren't a whole lot of things I could easily do, but sitting outside on a nice day was one of them. I'm pretty well healed now, but I still like to sit. And watch. Even with a good book in hand, my attention wanders upwards at the sound of wings.

As a farmer's daughter, I always figured I was well-acquainted with the outdoors, but am flabbergasted now by how much I don't know about birds and never did. I could recognize them by sight, patted myself on the back for it, and thought that was enough. But it's not. I'm learning to recognize them now by song. Out there right now I hear mockingbirds, cardinals, crows, and blue jays. On one serene afternoon some weeks ago, I heard a tiny cheep... cheep... cheep over my head, looked up through leaves, and saw a hummingbird zipping from blossom to blossom in my purple orchid tree.

Who's visited? Last autumn, it was starlings and yellow-throats, enjoying the berries on the camphor tree. Doves and robins. Now there's a cardinal couple, he and she, with no berries to come for yet the cardinals still hang out. Mockingbirds, too-- singing like angels but with the bad temper of little devils. They love tallow tree berries which are almost gone and I read are toxic anyway, but tell that to the mockingbirds. A smallish brown something with freckles on its white throat (I have no idea what it is) likes to loudly cuss. Little English sparrows sometimes show up as well.

A special friend, though, is the crippled blue jay who steals cat food. Yes, it's possible to love both birds and cats-- I feed a feral who was born under my house the year after Katrina, and she's interested in Purina but not at all in birds. Can't catch birds? Too old to catch birds? Too well-fed? I have no idea, but I never see tell-tale feathers in my yard testifying to massacre. And the birds pay the cat little interest, as the jays swoop down from time to time to stock up on kitty chow. They take it up into the trees, grasp it with their feet, and peck it until the kibble is smaller. So when I first saw the crippled one weeks ago with her right foot twisted up into the air, I felt bad, but there was nothing I could do. She could fly, and steady herself with the right wing as a sort of cane when she needed to, but not perform that grasping-and-pecking thing. Not with only one workable leg.

To my astonishment, she's still alive and still around, and still after cat food. She'll perch on the edge of the roof, flap down to the air conditioner when she's ready, survey the territory, then fly to the bowls on the ground and land there on one foot. Hopping across a flat surface isn't exactly her Olympic event, but she'll get the job done. The kibble in her beak. Then dart up into the trees as the cat rolls over, stretches, and yawns.

Other jays do it too. I don't know which one started it first, but they all watch one another and communicate satisfaction that there's cat food in them thar containers, y'all. Very rarely do I hear them shriek-- they don't seem to fear much, except the red-tailed hawk that used to show up overhead in the skies more but now seems to hunt here rarely, having been mobbed by crows so much lately. There's one blue jay who imitates a crow's caw and does it pretty well, on the whole. I didn't believe it the first time I saw/heard it, but now I read that they're great imitators and will even do a hawk call, if they think that'll frighten other birds away from the feeder. Who knew?

So here's an entire blue jay family, on good terms with both me and the feral cat, having a great time stealing Purina, and one of them has a bad leg. But does she feel sorry for herself? Not at all. She can perch as well as anybody in a tree and she sometimes feeds one or another of the wing-flapping supplicants who chirrup like the nestlings they recently were. That's one of the reasons I think she's female-- that, and her slightly-smaller size-- but I could be wrong. Jaybird dads might occasionally feed youngsters, as well. She could be a he. A good dad.

I could Google it right here and right now, but I think I'd rather look up and just watch. Let me get my shoes on. I'm going outside.

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