Wednesday, March 30, 2011

the habits of baby birds

photo: jetheriot

The first time I heard her, I was sitting upstairs at the table in the dining room having breakfast. Me. Me. Me. Me. Some bird doing an impression of a car alarm that can’t be canceled no matter how many times the button is pushed. I went downstairs to the picture window in my studio which looks out on the back patio where I sprinkle birdseed religiously. Neighborhood birds stop by for breakfast, returning throughout the day if I keep replenishing the food. When I’m sitting at my desk working, I like to pretend the picture window is a movie screen. All day long, birds fly across the movie screen, land on the brick floor, dance for a while and leave.

If I leave the window closed, it’s a silent movie. If I leave the window open, there’s a soundtrack – the brakes of the trash truck, the hum of the leafblower, the cooing of pigeons and the sound of doves nibbling. A squirrel and a cat stop by from time to time, silently skulking. None of the animals suspect that they are actors in a movie, that the cafĂ© is staged for an audience of one. Me. Me. Me. Me.

On the movie screen that morning, a white-winged dove was being rude, cocking and snapping his wings at a pigeon too busy gobbling sunflower seeds to be bothered. Defeated, the dove retreated, relaxing slowly the stiff wing he held out in a threatening gesture. A big fat baby sparrow was following her father around the patio, chirping, chirping, chirping, chirping, hopping along beside him as he picked through the empty shells and scattered husks for morsels to put in her mouth. Nevermind the nearby predators her harsh babbling might arouse, she went on and on with her chirping, stopping only to receive a bit of food when food was found for her and only because it was impossible for her to sing and swallow simultaneously.

She returned over the next few days. It was always the same routine. Me. Me. Me. Me. She knew how to hold her mouth open, shiver and chirp incessantly, but standing in a pile of birdseed, she was helpless to feed herself. By the fifth day, she could peck around a little, but preferred to have her father put food in her mouth. If I coughed or sneezed, the other birds flew away. Not the baby sparrow. She just froze and stopped chirping, but only for a second.

The seventh day was the last day I saw her.