Birds: that amazing fact of life

For some reason this year the towhees didn’t show up. I keep track of this sort of thing. They usually arrive in the last 10 days of April, a punctuation mark of spring. First heard, their distinctive “drink-your-tea-hee-hee.” Then seen, black on top, reddish sides, making their distinctive move in the underbrush, raking back leaves to uncover the delectables beneath.

But this year April went by. No towhee. Then it was lilac time. Birds are pretty punctual; I began to give up hope. Pine pollen time. Never showed. I heard one elsewhere practicing its song. But not on our acre in the Wellfleet woods.

We’ve lost some key birds in our over 30 year here. Earliest to go was the whip-poor-will, which woke us much too early in the morning through the 1980s. Now we stop at the back of the parking lot when leaving Newcomb Hollow beach at dusk to hear the only one we know about. It’s like getting a hit of another era.

Back in the day the bobwhite was a memorable part of vacations here. It’s a little quail whose “Bob, bob WHITE” (amazing how well birds do at pronouncing their names) was part of the texture of Wellfleet, along with sea smells and ponds. After we moved here, the explosion of a family of bobwhites from the underbrush was a regular experience. They left some years after the whip-poor-will.

We don’t know, but assume that the slow development of our sand road, had something to do with it. We no longer met their habitat standards. “There goes the hood,” they probably said. Our own building in the early 1980s and enlarging in the early 90s might have been the last straw.

I hope this is not the towhee story. We haven’t built anything recently.

We miss these birds. It’s a piece gone out of life.

There are other birds of course. The oriole, with its brilliant orange and bright song, usually hits our feeder on first arriving in early May. The incredible hummingbird which buzzes in from god-knows-where that same week. The cardinal is a year-round constant, indispensable, its sweet, full-bodied song a cheering note from first thing in the morning.(One of its riffs actually sounds like “cheer, cheer.”)

The hawk that has been hanging around, interested, we’re hoping, in the chipmunks with which we have been overrun.

The blue heron I was able to swim very close to the other day before it took off, stroking the air majestically, making a point about flight the way only a big bird can. ( Blue heron!)

Chickadees, flickers, goldfinches, bluebirds, wrens, the relatively drab sparrow. All of them.

That there are birds—just that. An amazing fact of life.

What if there were no birds? These bright creatures flitting about, this activity, this life, filling the air, the trees with song? Life would go on. We would still have the sky, the trees, the ponds, the creatures of the earth like us. We would still have flowers.
In a sense it’s easier to imagine life without birds than with them. We know earth’s atmosphere will support flight if wings are shaped right and there ‘s the right ratio of wingspan, muscle and weight. But still, what an idea. It seems miraculous that they ever evolved to do that.
But they did and since we have them, this unimaginable adornment to life, you can’t imagine life without them.
That there are birds—an amazing fact of life.

That there is anything, of course. That there is music. That there is ocean. Thunderstorms. Ice cream. Flowers. Chipmunks. Language. Stars. All flat-out amazing. All in a sense indispensable, each a unique part of the picture. That there is anything and everything.

But right now thinking of birds. That there are birds—just that.


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