Bent & broken II

stunned (downy woodpecker)

stunned (downy woodpecker)

This summer, it seems the birds have fledged a bit later than usual–not by much, but enough for me to notice. And this crop of birds seems to be a reckless bunch of adolescents. At least twice a day I hear a soft, feathered body thud against a windowpane.

 

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We have taken a few of the actions recommended by the Humane Society (see page here if you want some advice), but some of our windows are quite high off the ground and we haven’t been able to bird-proof all of them. Most summers we hear just a few thuds, find the occasional body of a casualty or rescue a stunned survivor before a neighborhood cat gets it.

This year? I think I’ve heard two dozen thuds during the past 10 days. I am surprised at how many of the injured simply recover from their brief concussion, sit dazed for a few seconds, or continue to fly; but youth is resilient.

 

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This woodpecker, for example, was more dazed than most. But it gradually calmed itself into a recuperated state and hopped off my hand and into the hedgerow.

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dazed but recuperating

dazed but recuperating

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I always come away amazed at such encounters with “wild animals.” There is so much I don’t know about them. They are gorgeous. I find myself spending long minutes just examining the details of a feather, a toenail (claw-nail?), a tongue, an eye.

It seems a privilege to hold one, and a privilege to let it go.

 

Even though this bird will no doubt repay me by tearing more holes in the wooden siding of our house.

 

Well, the birds were here first.

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Not as lucky, this poor beauty was, alas, “maximally bent and broken.” Like the language of poetry.

 

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The wildest moment

This morning we were visited by thousands of starlings, whirring in a murmuration of wings and twittering enough to raise quite a din. I was wrapped in a warm robe and standing on the back porch because my vegetable garden patch is finally free of snow, and I just wanted to remind myself that the earth lies waiting (and spring will indeed arrive). I heard the flocks arriving, not an uncommon occurrence this time of year, but had never observed such a huge group in my yard and treeline before. And they came so close! Spinning past me at eye level, five feet away.

I felt almost as if I were among them, and for the first time could see how individual birds suddenly reverse themselves–pivoting on a pinion-tip–followed by some in the group while others swooped away on a different arc. There seemed to be flocks within the general flock, each with its own pattern of loop or zig-zag, rushing level or stopping briefly on the muddy grass, some settling, some leaping, their flight paths intersecting…others taking a second or two to hover in the air as if deciding which invisible line to pursue.

The noise floored me. I felt my whole body respond, eyes wide, heart racing: awe, or elation, not fear. I noticed the neighbors’ cat, who often spends hours on my sunny back porch, had backed himself into a corner and was sitting alert but a bit cowed by the loud, wild activity of the birds.

Here’s a short article from Wired that includes a video and some links to research on the physics and dynamics of starling flocks, including the delightful theory of “critical transitions” which smacks of metaphorical possibilities I think I must explore in a poem someday soon.

I’ve looked for videos of starling murmurations, and there are many–but most of them show the flocks from a distance and leave off the noise of the birds, substituting new age music (see below). For me, part of the experience is aural. Too bad I did not have the means to capture today’s wildest moment; that must be left to the imagination.