meditation on beauty

What is beauty meant to be for? The other day, after a very good sleep, deep and restful, filled with fun, playful dreams that would rival any 15 screen cinema, I stumbled to greet the day and my husband. “Good morning” he said with a musical note to his voice that usually meant I was trailing something ridiculous behind. “You look like David Cassidy today.” Aww- no not really I protested and he meant it as a compliment because David Cassidy is a pretty guy. Yes, but he is a guy and I am most decidedly am not.


Does it matter? This discussion is happening on the national stage to consternation of many people in regards to bathrooms. We can not get our minds around the idea that the lines we draw between this and that culture, community, sex, etc., are so very fine.


In the bird world, often the males are prettier than the females; there are so many examples that I find it almost easy to paint the sex as egotistical and pompous, good for one thing only. The female bird, in her work boots and dungarees, patiently accepts the fantastic displays. Or perhaps it is the same old story; the plain girl is wooed with flashy colors, maybe a dance, or a nest lined with soft bits. Then, a fifty-fifty chance he will be gone by the morning and she is left with the responsibility and worry of the young chicks. He is off to find another plain girl to sing and dance to.


Or he stays, if mother nature has deemed it so, as the cardinal couple. The male will pass a precious seed or two to his chosen every year during the mating season, no matter what transpired previously in the harsh winter months. The he and she will raise the brood together, each sharing responsibility for the care of the little ones.  And it reminds me of people I know; some are natural parents while others I could not imagine staying in one place long enough to see a child’s tooth come in straight.


The ornithologists speculate that the males need to be lovely to attract a female for mating. The ladies in the bird world, do not need to be pretty just fertile. As the weather warms, I see many very pretty young woman emerging from their winter bundles, smiling and sparkling, while the guys saunter by assessing behind half closed lids, scruffy and slouching. It seems familiar and different; cyclical and new.

But I really do not look like David Cassidy.












The Pile of Grey Feathers

A brown thrasher, two male towhees, a pile of grey feathers, a pair of ducks. Migration and nesting season means that I never know what I will see when I look out the window this time of year. As it has been cold and dreary, winter’s icy fist has not released and so the magnolia tree’s blossoms are now brown tissue paper frou-frous, dropping to the frozen ground, dreams unfulfilled.

The Brown Thrasher scrapes at the earth like a gardener with a hoe; more specifically this would be a gardener with a purpose to get that piece of ground broken up now- at this moment- no delay. This bird has a reason to work so quickly because it has over 1100 songs to sing, repeating each once before moving to the next. The Thrasher is fierce so if it nests in the shrubs or low growth in my backyard, and I come upon their nest, him and her will have no compunction about stabbing me in the hand, foot, whatever with their beak. And I will get the message, you can be sure.


The towhees are a one-off I am sure. Here and gone, on their way to someplace else, Traverse City perhaps or maybe all the way to Canada. I just hope the birds remember to visit on the way back south. I do not mind that I might be viewed as a way-station, only fit for a couple nights stay. Sigh.


We have come to the moment of quiet, the pile of grey feathers, probably  the remains of a morning dove, the slow moving large ground feeding pigeon-like birds. Our backyard has attracted several small hawks that can maneuver through the trees and houses. The Cooper’s Hawk or the Sharp Shined Hawk have both been known to hunt the birds at feeders causing many backyard bird feeders to question if they are doing the right thing by offering available seed in the open. In the winter, it is particularly a stark situation with the bare trees, the white ground, and the moving, sometimes colorful birds. I have seen the older hawks perch on tree branches near the feeder and wait patiently. I have also witnessed juvenile hawks perch at the top of the feeder pole on the off-chance he will catch a bird coming for dinner.


But on the day in question, our morning dove did not move fast enough and was the hawk’s meal which was eaten in the backyard, at least partially. That is a dilemma for back yard bird feeders; can you accept that you are altering nature in a small way? By feeding the birds, I am changing patterns, creating patterns. But I have already done that a million times over and over. I do not know the answer; we humans are such a big, long lived species.

But here’s the good news. The pair of ducks that seem to be making a home in my backyard knew what to do with that pile of grey feathers. Seems those feathers were perfect for nest building. And thus life circles around and around.







Synchro and the Starlings

Do you find yourself trying to keep pace with the natural world around you? Perhaps you do not even notice that is what you are trying to do? Everything is bursting from within to get out. Look at the magnolia trees, children trying to hold smiles in.images.jpg

Then the weather changes, and I feel encouraged to sit in front of the fire with a warm toddy waiting for the snow. Speed up, now slow down. Quick, quick, slow. I was never very good at dancing no matter the style or genre, not all of us have a sense of rhythm.

A couple weeks ago, I watched women flying on the ice together in orchestrated waves of movement. The group were called the Rockettes, and I understand there are competitions all around the nation for this type of ice dancing. The girls start young, as one would expect, learn the movements until, if she lasts that long, she is ice flying, one arm linked on each side with another ambitious like minded soul.

I saw what happened when the link was broken; the floundering confusion to regroup, reattach, re-link. I also saw and felt the frustration when a misstep  was made, and then, the loss when the line moved on, without the girl, the distance growing wider very fast as she struggled to regain her footing and reach an arm hold. It felt like life in general, watching these girls trying to make it look easy, the lovely red smiles on their faces so gentle something went wrong. Then, nothing is right and all the moves are uneven, clumsy; the smile is no longer pretty but harsh, too much color. Yes, now that looks like life.



But before these Rockettes, came the starlings (and yes, everything in this blog eventually comes around to the birds). The starlings created the patterns that we copy on the ground. For us, it is all about beauty and perfection. It is more elemental for the birds, the speculations ranging from the need to gather as many as possible for warmth, pass information, deter predators. The Murmuration is the air dance before the roost, and the starling flocks can grow to up to 100,000  as birds join the ballet.

Please watch this beautiful video even if you have seen another as it will take your breath away. Murmuration (Official Video) by Sophie Windsor Clive & Liberty Smith

Then watch this video of the 2015 World Synchro Champs Team: 2015 World Synchro Champs SP Team Canada 1

If I were in the audience for both performances, I would say the starlings were  far more confident and fearless. There would be little doubt in my mind that the birds own the sport of gliding and twirling, but we have made strides in our efforts to copy them.

The Surety

On two separate occasions it was mentioned that the Baltimore Oriole was back, which for those who reside on the east coast, is a non- event I expect. Upon, grilling, neither person gave in, although we were and still are, skeptical. Oh sure, an intrepid, Oriole male could be scouting for good nesting territory. But then again, we all know how reliable we have proven ourselves to be as true witness to events. They probably saw what they think they did, and the rest of us wish it was our sighting.


What I do know is that the oriole loves grape jelly but the jury of professionals are out as to whether this craving is a good thing or, perhaps, not so much.

The birds will crave the jelly, really the high sugar content, during migration. Makes sense, marathoner runners need that same kind of energy hit during a race as well. It eases off for birds as their activities change. Nesting requires more protein, so the birds switch their diets. As a side note, this drives people who set-up backyard bird feeders bonkers, they take this so personally. ‘What is wrong? Why am I being rejected? It was going so well’

Some people add fresh fruit to the jelly mixture in order to resemble more closely what the bird would be consuming  naturally, the fruit from trees and bushes. Some go so far as to add protein in the form of mashed meal worms or other bugs.

The reason it would be unusual for an Oriole now,  is that there is very little natural food available yet. Although the winter has been easier than usual, the wintering Robins and Starlings have cleared all the berries and fruit from trees and new growth is still coming in.

What I do know that is breaking my heart daily and I wish I could intervene, the little Carolina Wren has not found a mate yet. He sings his operatic song which to my ears is amazing. I would choose him and have tried to let the little
brown fluff ball know that if worse comes to worse, he and I will break down the walls between worlds and fly away  together.


The Spring Bucket List

Taking a moment from the all the activity around and about to get organized on what should not be missed. Too soon, too soon, the leaves will fall again even though we have seen no sign of new sprigs yet. Still, the spring migrants are trudging along in the sky, each on their own personal battle against the delicate balance between the elements and stored energy, armies of winged beasts ready to descend on us.

So set the politics aside for a bit (it will do you good)- this is what you should be looking for in the next three months:

  1. Along the way, someone told the cowbird that it was a lousy parent, and forever onward, the bird has left it to others to raise it’s young. It does not matter which bird does the raising, sparrow, cardinal, chickadee- the cowbird is still a cowbird which means the mother feeding the baby is half the size often. Bucket list: Sparrow feeding cowbird baby- realize that the cowbird mother killed the sparrows eggs before she laid her egg on top.


  1. Watch an episode of House Hunters, or two, then go into your backyard and observe the nesting behavior of either the wren, chickadee or the sparrow couple, which are nesting box dwellers like us. Or if you are lucky enough, you may have a Bluebird pair to observe. The dialogue is almost exactly as it is on the TV show, minus the realtor opening the closet doors. Her: ‘I just thought it would be a little bigger.’ Him:’ We can always add on. Whatever you need sweety’. Her: ‘But is it close enough to all the good stuff, the food, the water?’ Him: ‘It’s perfect doll baby. You don’t want to be too close or else the first time one of the little ones goes ‘cheep, cheep’ that would be the end of our honeymoon, get it.’




3. The hummingbirds and orioles arrive in a panic after flying miles on an empty stomach some years. It all depends on the conditions. One year, the orioles came to town so famished they could be seen ripping out the pretty flowers from atop hummingbird feeders in desperation to make the ports larger.Can you imagine if a group of new-to-town garishly dressed hooligans arrived breaking things, no matter their reasons. It would not stand in the human world.

At this point the fast Ruby throated males have been sighted in southern GA and Baltimore orioles are, guess where, on the east coast. So we shall see what happens this year. Because the Ruby throated is small and pretty, like a jewel, we think it’s temperament must follow. But I picture a troll  when describing the hummingbird’s personality; angry, craggy not good in conversation as it spends so much time alone. This little bird has a hard life, there is not much joy  I don’t imagine in this species life. If the Ruby throated gave up migrating, it would be more at peace but we in the north would never see the lovely bird again. And so, it flutters and complains it’s way up into Canada, taking our gifts as it’s due.



4. The Cardinal male will feed his mate during courtship which I believe is one of the many reasons this species is so beloved by backyard bird feeders.If the starlings would only incorporate such a courtly ritual in their practices, it would go a long way to improving the general sentiment about them too. Everybody wants to make sure the cardinals get lots of good food, not so much the starling. Maybe it doesn’t quite remind you of your first kiss, but  perhaps it looks like somebody you know.



5. The birds will fight for their nesting territory which is the same to them as our battles for borders and countries. Once nesting is over, however, they shake feathers and move along whereas,we never stop.  The crazy and sad thing to see is tied to the agitations and anxiety males endure in mating season.Sometimes a bird will fixate on its own reflection as it’s true enemy. Robins and cardinals attack their image coming back day after day, at the same time when the light is right, blooding themselves in a cock fight of one. I tell people to soap their windows which is as good as saying never clean them. But It is the avian version of narcissism and the birds do about as well as humans who exhibit the tendency.

There are so many more ‘Do Not Miss’ items that I feel as if I have only scratched the surface. Perhaps there is a Bucket list 2, 3 …. and on












No Fair!

Here’s something for you on a Monday…….

Recently, at a lecture about the lovely and much revered Eastern Bluebird, I heard much disparagement about my old friend the starling. Most of it was well deserved, I might add. It is hard to take in what a callous starling will do if he wants the nesting box of a bluebird; any person who witnesses the destruction will have no qualms of doing the same to the starling. Isn’t that how wars get started?

But there was one thing that was not true. The lecturer accused the starling of being stupid and inept. His point was that starlings were getting into bird baths in winter and freezing, or people were worried about that happening. So I did some checking to find out what was what and contrary to our usual habit of attaching negative qualities to people and species we do not understand, the starling does know what she is doing in the winter. In fact, few birds are as efficient with the heat and the cold as this bird.


First, birds need some water in the winter, as well as summer, just much less, to keep the feathers in good working order. Feathers are like zippers, and if they are separated apart, the bird will lose it’s ability to effectively evade it’s predators. So something like 10% of each day is devoted to preening the feathers; knocking out the little parasites, smoothing the barbs back together. Birds need water for this. But the thing with the starling is that this species has learned how to plunge into a bird bath, kind of like the Polar Bear Club, shake the water off, as the insulating feathers hold the heat generated by the muscles that contract as the body is shivering. Now the starling has prepped her feathers for a good preen so she is ready for flight.

The starling has adapted over the years in order to speed it’s metabolism for the colder weather, even though it is not from as cold a climate originally, and slow when it it hot. Few native species have been able to make the survival changes as efficiently as the starling.

So when people saw the starlings take a plunge into a birdbath, and the temperature was extremely, unbelievably cold, they assumed the bird was crackers. Probably, the birds needed to be saved from such reckless behavior and a ban on birdbaths should be instituted. Most likely, this silly, noisy, messy bird that nobody really wants around now needs special help.

Which is the most ironic thing of all.


For further reading about feathers and what not, I really like Tom of | Animals, Evolution, Questions and Answers,Uncategorized | 08 22nd, 2015 | — link below.images


Take The Starling For Instance….

I can find victims everywhere, but mostly I think I like to look at life from all angles. Nothing is as it is portrayed and the mystery of life is figuring that out.

Take the starling for example. The European Starling was introduced to the country in New York’s central park around the 1890’s in homage to Shakespeare, along with other non-native European birds mentioned in his work. Few  immigrant species have done as well as the starling, taking over swaths of habitat belonging to treasured native species. And in general, it is frowned upon, offending a built in sense of fair play and justice. Starlings would be better accepted if the birds were not such good survivors and extremely efficient at adapting.

This trajectory brings to mind the our parents-parents own journey from immigrant Europeans to gutsy landowners and business generators, taking what they wanted and needed to survive. As things have settled, we move inside in more luxurious comfort, the starlings are locked in the same cycles based on biology . So perhaps we are reminded of  bad behavior every time we see a starling at the feeder, strewing white poo in the water, screaming at smaller and larger birds, in general trying to rule the world. It’s uncomfortably familiar is my thought.

Some people say to me that they would be happy if all the  starlings were exterminated or shipped back to Europe. In the UK, while the starling is still common, it is on their red list, the endangered list, for various reasons including habitat and hunting.

We shift people around like this too, allowing them an open door one minute and then closing it the next if they prosper or behave true to their natures. And then we are sorry and try to fix it but the band-aid never has enough adhesive.

Now I tied myself in a knot of questions, I am going to see what my gregarious starling has to say; he has about ten calls to his vocabulary and he can imitate a bunch of other birds. He will probably use foul language, tell me a hawk is coming for my head, and that if I haven’t put out all the sunflower seeds, now is the time.