Last night it was eight degrees below. How do the chickadees keep warm? I know how the blue jays do. A friend told me he places peanuts in their shells on his deck for the squirrels. But an uninvited blue jay soon landed, lifting and shaking at least twelve shells before selecting the heaviest one with peanuts loaded in both chambers.
Folks who watch birds take time to notice. It requires a willingness to observe and the openness to redefine success. In warmer weather I have never walked out to watch the birds and return home feeling as if I had wasted my time. Simply being in their world is reward enough.
But in the winter when the streets are icy and the backwoods fill with snow, I hang suet and feeders for the birds along the creek as well as at my window. I purchase thirty pound bags of no mess birdseed throughout the year to boost their stamina but also in order to keep in touch.
Some of the regulars have come to expect my ministrations on their behalf every morning at my window feeder. On rare occasion in which I am still so thick with dreams that I fail to put out fresh cups of seeds before taking my place by the windows with my coffee, my little chickadee with one bent wing lands on the ledge outside and gives me a beady eye. Aren’t you forgetting something?
After setting out their breakfast, I sit down to mine. Soon, bright brigades of cardinals ornament the dun branches of the mulberry trees. One vibrant flicker drills the suet cage. Around the feeder on the pole by the Norwegian pine, two juncos, a wren, a nuthatch, a pine siskin, and a tufted titmouse, take turns. Sometimes a pair of soft grey mourning doves joins the banquet. But when that Cooper’s hawk sweeps down, in a flash of feathers every bird disappears.
A recent Audubon App. allows me to check the sighting of other birds in central Michigan. I can post birds I have seen and check out what species others have observed. Over time, I noticed a particular place about twenty miles south of here-as the crow flies- in which an amazing array of birds had been spotted including a Crimson Crowned Kinglet and an Indigo Bunting.
I continued to check in at this particular site to discover what other unusual birds had flown through that corridor, until it finally occurred to me what all these sightings were really about. No greater array of birds existed twenty miles south of here; twenty miles south of here existed a person paying attention: A person willing to wait, to notice, and to place herself in the realm of birds.
I recall the time my mother attended a bird watching seminar at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. One evening before sundown her bird watcher group took a hike to look for a special species of owl. Due to the difficulty of the hike and her advance in years, my mother had to decline.
After they left she sat outside beneath the awning of her room with her bird book on her lap and read more about this owl. The tall stump of an old Cottonwood tree too massive to remove stood before her as the sun sank and the stars rose and anyone who has seen the night sky of northern New Mexico next to the Kit Carlson National forest knows that to gaze up in it is to see the face of the God. The Milky Way spread its royal road above her with its magnificent pathway to Heaven.
As my mother sat beneath the splendor of that night sky a sudden whoosh of brown and white feathers swooped down and landed in a branch of that Cottonwood before her.
She told me her hands had trembled. But she held her breath and raised those binoculars to her eyes. Perched before her sat the very owl everyone else had left to find. It was like a gift from the universe. She must have smiled over her good fortune. And although she never mentioned it to me, I imagine she felt a certain amount of accomplishment when her fellow bird watchers trudged back dusty and tired having never seen the owl.
But I wonder that the real part of her delight wasn’t so much in the owl coming to her as much as it was that she’d been present when it did. Ready. Open. Watchful.
She had been there. That’s the miracle.