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for the birds

for the birds

Early yesterday morning, before the snow, before the clouds even, there were birds. There are always birds here because we have so many trees, but this was different. It wasn't just the throng of the little brown guys that hang around the bird feeder all winter fighting with the squirrels. It was all kinds of birds. Swooping and diving over the house, calling to each other, making a racket and having a big old bird get-together.

[story continued here]

I had my camera out, like I do every morning. I have yet to get a picture of the birds by the feeder; it's like they can feel my presence even when I am quiet and barefoot, and they flutter away before I am within six feet of them. So I was trying once again to get a photo of them. Then I noticed the cardinals. There were two of them, bright red and looking out of place, sitting on the telephone wire. I was so startled to see them, I fumbled for my camera, making a whole lot of noise in the process. The brown birds glanced at me, annoyed yet again, and flew off with a racket. The cardinals took flight and headed towards the backyard. I followed their path and ended up in my aunt's yard, where two more cardinals were resting on the stone statues in the garden. The other two joined them, one perched on angel and one on the eagle. The other two had been sitting on my aunt's virgin mary statue (doesn't every Italian aunt have one of those?) and they took off as the other two cardinals came down and stopped on the cement brick fence behind them. I took several pictures in quick succession, afraid the birds would scurry away before I could get a good shot in. But they stayed there, looking at me and almost preening for the camera. A squirrel came along, balancing himself on top of the fence, quietly approaching the cardinals. I snapped a pictures just as the squirrel leaped and the birds flew away, leaving the squirrel pawing at air.

I was about to head in when I heard the screeching. Not the sound of one bird, but the sound of many. Seagulls. I recognized the screech immediately. I walked around the front of the house in time to see about forty seagulls land on my neighbors roof. They would perch there, look around and then swarm through the sky, making a complete circle, and land on the roof again. Then, as if they had choreographed it beforehand, one seagull at a time would take off from the roof, circle above my house, and land on the telephone wire above me, making that irritating noise the whole time.

The arrival of the flock of seagulls brought out the curious. First the squirrels, who stood on the branches of the oak tree in the front of the yard, facing the seagulls and perhaps staring them down. Then the two flocks of small brown birds, maybe about 100 to a flock, one coming from the left and one from the right. They would fly, grouped together in the shape of a diamond, all coming out of one tree in a cacaphony of chirping. Swoop up, swoop down. All harmonized and synchronized. They would come down low, brush by the squirrels, and then head up again with a furious flapping of wings, past the seagulls on the wire, higher and higher until they were pinholes in the sky. Then they would dive back again with a furious speed, making the seagulls and squirrels take off, all the running and wing beating and screeching and chirping making a soundtrack for this wild scene.

Meanwhile the cardinals sat there like the cool kids in school, the ones who couldn't be bothered to join in whatever game was going on in the parking lot. If they had cigarettes, they would have been smoking them. The four of them stood there, watching their fellow birds, and I could almost swear they were shaking their heads in disdain.

It started to snow then, little, sproradic flakes at first, and then a bigger flurry, until it was really snowing hard. By now my hands were frozen and I had finished the film, taking two complete rolls of nothing but birds and squirrels. I stood a few seconds longer and watched the seagulls disappear into the snow, their screeches getting dimmer and dimmer until it was all quiet again. The brown birds must have vanished into their trees, away from the snow, and the cardinals were gone. Only the squirrels remained, still on the branches of the oak tree. I'm sure they were gloating that they had won, for once I disappeared into the house, they were the last ones standing in the yard.


That sounds like a remake of "The Birds" if directed by the guy who directed "American Beauty". Our winter has been unusually bird-free, but coincidentally there was a huge flock of crows circling over the freeway on my morning commute today. Circling and circling and folding in on itself until I had to think about the plastic bag in AB.

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