One For The Birds

One For The Birds

By The Old Professor

I’m not a bird man. I don’t bird watch, except in the cockney sense of the term. I have no life book. I put out neither seed nor suet. As a kid I did shout “Into the air junior birdmen!” But that was just for fun. I never managed lift off. Bird beaks don’t trigger any emotion; I have a pretty noticeable beak myself. Birds just haven’t been my hobby of choice.

A memorable bird driven moment did occur on Honeymoon Island many years ago. Good friends from the UK were visiting, and we took them picnicking on the beach. The quite expressive husband gestured broadly with his sandwich bearing hand only to find that his tasty treat had vanished into the maw of a passing gull. That memory has produced laughs for years.

I am certainly aware birds are around. Up north I noticed them flocking south in late fall. Hard to miss. Occasionally I hear their calls. Some are quite pleasant. Here I have seen groups of white ones with long curved beaks punching the ground for worms or, grubs. They look like some kind of luncheon club. I once had my hat attacked by a crow. I suspect I had walked under the tree where she was nesting.

I have driven through the Ding Darling Reserve on Sanibel in search of the roseate spoonbill. I saw several only to later notice them in ponds on the Pinellas Bayway. I find pigeons and gulls dirty and annoying. But mostly I have practiced peaceful coexistence with my avian neighbors. Shooting doves, quails, pheasants, and ducks, has never tempted me, though I confess to having consumed duck and goose. I don’t think turkey should count.

To my surprise, lately birds have come into my life. Not a great many, nor a variety of kinds, but a few of a rather special lot. We live in an area with an ample supply of trees, a few just outside of our windows. In the last month we have been almost daily visited by pileated redheaded woodpeckers.

Now these are not the small redheaded woodpeckers of my youth. These are as big as crows. Indeed, they are often mistaken for crows when in flight. But crows fly in a straight line while pileated woodpeckers arc.
The large red pointed crests atop their heads make these birds unique. They inspired Walter Lantz’s Woody the Woodpecker, who last appeared in 1991. His laugh was like the call of the pileated woodpecker, loud and not especially musical, again a bit crow-like.

Our visitor began approaching the window where the Professoress sits to compute. I thought he must be attracted to my woman. I am too, but I’m not a wife swapper. That’s for the birds. But subsequent visitations were by females as well as males. The males have a red slash along the sides of their heads. Sometimes they came in pairs. I then decided they must want to be friends.

So I began going to the window when they showed up only to have them fail to answer my friendly greeting. They just wag their heads from side to side and peck away at the sill, the wall, and even at the glass itself. I know there are no bugs in the glass, only in my software. So why peck at it? They can be heard all throughout the apartment. My bird friends do eat the berry like clusters hanging from the adjacent fan palms, but there are no berries in the glass either. I would ask them why they do it, but I flunked interspecies communication 101.

One authority says that these feathered folk see their own faces in reflective glass. Ours isn’t reflective, but they always come on the south side. So maybe the sun makes it so. What I am experiencing then is not a hello, but merely avian narcis- sism. I don’t need that in a bird; I see enough of it in people.

Pecked by David H. Smith, Ph.D., retired professor.