Until a person moves to the country, birds don’t take up a lot of space in their life. City people seldom notice birds at all, unless they’re pigeons and then it’s not what you’d call a good relationship. Or it's seagulls for those living outside the city near any body of water, which is another tenuous association between man and bird.
Because country life is based heavily on birds, we pay more attention to the large winged creatures like the eagles that prey on our chickens or small dogs or tiny children, or those crows who dig up our newly planted seeds from the garden in the spring, or the robins who wake us up while it’s still dark or the determined Barn Swallows who continue to build their solid mud nests right where we don’t want them, like directly over the back door.
No matter how many times you knock the nests down, they rebuild. But in the wrong spots, these nests have to go. These are the birds who have no problem seriously dive-bombing anyone who goes anywhere near their nests after the eggs have hatched. We console ourselves by saying, well, they eat a great quantity of mosquitoes, ticks and other pests, or at least we hope they do, but their nests must go somewhere else.
The robins arrive early in the spring before the last snowfall. The country saying says, “Three snows on a robin’s back” and it holds true year after year, but we’re still glad to see them. In greeting them, we forget these are the little red-breasted horrors that think nothing of beginning their day way before first-light with their loud and cheery little song, looking for a mate by happily singing in full voice instead of using a quiet dating site.
The earliest the robins start to sing in early spring is before four in the morning. Visitors from the city can't believe their early morning greetings, especially after spending an entire night listening to an enthusiastic chorus of girl cows mooing lustily in the pasture looking for a good time, their bovine biological clock ticking loudly. Nature might be wonderful, but not so much every night and early morning during April and May, and June, and . . .
When it's full summer, the robins grow tired of raising the families they were so excited about a month or two earlier. Now what used to be their early 4:00 am morning call consist less of “Hi-ya big boy wanna come up and see me sometime?” to more brief later morning chirps back and forth and then they stop for a while emitting a few peeps now and then just to let the other robins know they’re still awake, well, kind of.
As fall approaches, robins are mostly silent as they hop around the fields and yards listening for and surprising unsuspecting worms. One day the robins steal quietly away without notice and the early mornings will be silent again.
It’s funny, everyone anxiously looks for the robins in the spring, and yet no one notices when they’re gone.
Everyone notices when the Canada geese leave. All summer long the chicks that hatched in the spring spend endless hours learning how to fly and to do it in group formation. If we could understand goose talk as they fly over for the hundredth time, nowhere close to their traditional V formation, the honking of the elder geese could probably be interpreted as; “Sidney, yes you, Sidney, over to the left, get in the drift. No, left, your other left. Oy, Sidney!” Followed by a grand goose eye roll.
After months of practice, with trips being longer and longer and farther away, one cold and foggy day in November they leave for good with much honking of good-byes, not to return until the following spring. The skies and the ponds seem empty and lonely without them.
There’s something romantic about their flight. Winter is just around the corner and they are off for parts unknown where the sun always shines and the temperature is warm as they meet their friends and catch up on old times.
They are off to sunny days in warmer climes, at least that's what I used to think. Recently I’ve noticed they don’t go any farther than an hour or so south where there will be just as much snow and be just as cold as here.
Birds, go figure.
Diane Dryden is Chicago born, okay, Evanston, one block away from the city limits, and now is happily transplanted into the north country of beautiful Wisconsin