Birdwatch . . . Leap of Faith


March passed, blurred gray with rain. The backyard trees, still winter stark, hung heavy with a dozen birds roosting in dark clumps. Turkey buzzards. I grabbed some binoculars; the birds’ shrunken heads were red, with small, hooked beaks.

After a drizzle, the buzzards flapped their black-brown wings, shaking off the damp. Then they took off and soared. The underspread of their wings caught silvery gray in half-sunlight.

I walked outside at dusk and stared up. The invaders clung high in the trees. Hissing, I heard hissing. The neighbor said they would not snatch my cat. I quit looking at the backyard. I quit mowing. In April forsythia forced tiny yellow starbursts. The buzzards disappeared. Suddenly the trees fringed light green.

I hung four baskets of Boston ferns from porch hooks. They swung gently.

One morning I yawned and went to get the paper tossed carelessly at the edge of the gravel driveway. I wore an oversize “Welcome to Huntsville” T-shirt. Mrs. S, my across-the-street neighbor, always met the day with her rocker pulled up to her glass storm door, watching. My pink T was no shorter than a mini skirt. That was decent enough to scooch down for the paper. As I came up, one of the ferns trembled.

A tiny brown bird dithering in the fronds darted to a low-hanging branch. A slightly larger one, its head capped with red, chattered from atop a bronze trellis leaning against the porch. I didn’t know about birds. I didn’t care. My father hovered over field guides to American birds. His lifelong dream was to find a bird feeder that defied squirrels. He never did.

The birds fussed every morning when I took morning coffee. I lounged uncomfortably in the resin wicker chair. I couldn’t get used to its stiff woven arm. The tattered weaving of my wicker furniture rotted long ago in the basement. Still, I claimed my hour on the porch. The no-name birds could keep the rest of the day’s 24 hours. I thought about watering the fern with a turkey baster. Perhaps a safe enough distance. But I shrugged off the notion. If the fern dried up, I could get another at Home Depot.

I lost track of time. Pollen lightly dusted the porch gummy green. I didn’t feel like hosing it off and sipped coffee at the dining room table. Early one morning, high-pitched chirping broke my coffee-musing silence. The babies had cracked their shells.

I dragged my chair to the closest window and pulled back a sheer. I stood on the saddle seat for uncounted minutes.

The mother bird swooped in time and again. The chirping lost urgency. I tossed some laundry in the washer. Usually, I carefully measured to the proper line in the cap but now dumped in some liquid detergent. I ran back upstairs, but the nest was still. I yanked the pacing cat indoors. A fresh, wind-whipped rain washed away the pollen.

Every morning I forgot my coffee and stood on the chair. After a few days, I set a stepladder on the porch, about three feet from the nest. Once I sneaked out barefoot after the parents had flitted away. I slowly climbed two ladder steps and peeped between some ferns carelessly parted by the parents. Three feathery-fuzzed babies wobbled and stretched their necks and opened their beaks, with throats wide, ready to swallow. I climbed another step. They ducked and huddled.

The birds waited for feedings between longer stretches. I watch them at the window. The boldest took to standing, beak up, beady eyes glittering, and breast puffed. He postured like Washington crossing the Delaware, so I named him George. He looked through the jungle of ferns. He flapped defiantly.

George took his leap and the others soon after. I found my faith and mowed the yard.

For glorious birdwatching and learning, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.



  1. Bea dM

    Tactile and visual impressions from your observation of nature, the unfolding of springtime and rebirth of species that are remarkably real. Your colours are so real too – blurred grey, fringed light green, gummy green. And the final sentence “I found my faith and mowed the yard” is an unexpected and effective ending. … that stays with the reader. ..

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