My Old Kentucky Homesite

Well, At Least I Know It’s Not Superman

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/11/2009

In an attempt to feel at home in Lexington, my wife and I have put up a bird feeder in our backyard.

In my New Yawk days, I knew only two birds: pigeons and not-pigeons. They were very easy to tell apart. If I saw it, it was a pigeon.

But living in Florida, I became somewhat of a birder. I learned how to distinguish the larger raptors from airplanes; in time, I could tell a hawk from a handsaw. (Tip: you can’t cut anything with a hawk.) If I saw a large wading bird, I knew it wasn’t likely to be a penguin, and if I saw a small skittish creature flying from a treebranch to catch bugs, I realized it probably wasn’t an ostrich – they’re not skittish.  I could even recognize some species by their songs. (Tip: If they’re warbling Elvis, they’re the next-door neighbor’s radio.)

At our feeder in the Sunburn State, we had painted buntings that visited throughout the winter, and I learned to spot them because no other bird has a blue head, green-and-brown wings, and a red underbody and rump. In fact, I learned that bird’s have rumps, not asses. They also have claws, not fingernails; beaks or bills, not noses; and crowns or crests, not hairdos.

Eventually, I actually got pretty good at identifying the most common Florida species. Where I lived, on the edge of a thicket, it wasn’t uncommon to see fourteen or fifteen species in, around, or over my yard every day. During migration season, that number could double, or even triple. I began to keep lists.

Tuesday. Saw blue-green gnatcatcher snatch a bug near lantana, common yellowthroat flyng around aimlessly through oleander, and a  waterthrush walking on the lawn, pretty good view of markings. (Northern? Louisiana? Describe to David, and ask  which is more probable.) Heard great-crested flycatcher, high in an oak. Also heard white-eyed vireo, and brown thrasher, but didn’t see. At noon, swallow-tailed kite flying overhead. Flash of orange entering thicket – too quick to get a good look – orchard or Baltimore? Not a single pigeon, though.

Question: What if birds logged information on the people they see?

Tuesday. Saw cop snatch donut near the Krispy Kreme, common children running around aimlessly in playground, and a blonde watering lawn, pretty good view of cleavage. (Married? Single? Describe to David, and ask which is more probable.) Heard biker revving up motorcycle, high in his driveway. Also heard lawyer arguing on cell phone, and Elvis on the radio, but didn’t see. At noon, kids flying kite overhead. Flash of orange entering hair salon  – too quick to get a good look – natural or dye-job? Where are all these damn pigeons coming from?

If birds wrote lists, I wonder if they’d mention our new avian restaurant here in Lexington. We don’t have the variety of customers that we had in Florida, but we have been feeding house sparrows (literally dozens), titmice, chickadees, and house finches. At least one downy woodpecker has found our suet cake. Goldfinches dine at the nyjer sock.

So my wife and I are slowly getting adjusted to life in Kentucky. The birds, if no others, seem to appreciate our arrival. Maybe one of the chickadees will compare notes with me.

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4 Responses to “Well, At Least I Know It’s Not Superman”

  1. srsny said

    No green-crested lapwing screaming forbear? I never understood that line, but now it occurs to me that for-BEAR for-BEAR might actually be the call of the green crested lapwing. You can look it up in one of your bird books, once you uncover the box marked Auld Lang Sine.

  2. Srsny:

    By Googling, I found out that you’ve quoted a line from “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton.” Here’s the verse in question:

    Thou stock-dove, whose echo resounds thro’ the glen;
    Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den;
    Thou green-crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear–
    I charge you disturb not my slumbering fair.

    But I don’t know what the hell Burns is talking about. According to The Sibley Guide to Birds, Northern Lapwings scream “airr willucho weep weep weep ee yo weep.” I can’t see a bear responding to that, can you? And why would the lapwings want a bear, anyway?

    By the way, the box marked “Auld Lang Syne” was filled with tacks and cups, not bird books.

  3. Evie said

    You may want to pick up the latest edition of the American bird’s journal – I think it’s called Time Flies – for a review of your restaurant. The way I understand it, the range of the menu is limited, but everything you offer is really well prepared.

  4. Evie:

    I hope the review mentions our Early Human Specials.

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