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Episode 081 – Birds

Breakfast and I’m sitting alone in our dinning room looking out over the bay eating some cereal. It’s quiet. It’s early - favorite time of day. Thump. Something hit the window. Three more times in one hour I heard the sound of a bird flying into some of our windows. My gaze goes out across the bay to the hillside dotted with houses. How many birds fly into windows and die. There must be a bunch. Four birds in one hour fly into our windows. They break their necks. I was just reading about it in a book entitled, “The World Without Us”. There was an amazing chapter on birds and our relationship to them. The early morning thumping reminded me of the facts of the case. If we weren’t here to repair the damage, windows would be broken fairly quickly. Wind and rain would soon roar through our houses. They wouldn’t last long: our houses. As a matter of fact, without us, and our constant maintenance our presence on the face of the earth would soon disappear. But then there are the birds and the impact our windows have on them. It got me thinking.  Who speaks for the birds?

This is retirement talk. I’m Del Lowery.

How many birds die because of us each year: here in America – billions? Yes, not millions. We’re talking billions. At least 250 million die because of TV antennas. Then there are the cats – house cats – they love to kill birds – no matter how soft and gentle they purr, they are natural born killers – of birds. Like maybe more than a billion a year. If you have a cat, you have a killing machine. And then there are the windows, and electric lines and all sorts of other man made stuff. Birds take a real hit.

I’m not a bird guy. I mean I like birds, but I don’t have a life list. Oh, I’ve got a pair of binoculars and I have gone down to the water and gazed with wonder at the colors of the wood duck or harlequin. I still pause and am impressed when I see the bald eagles sitting at the top of the trees. I looked out my window early one morning last spring and saw 27 blue herons coming in on those big wings to their nest which lie just below and to the side of our house. It was amazing. Wings outstretched; gliding in with necks and feet extended. Unforgettable. But, a life list: No. I’m not one of those. I’m not a real birder.

I had a friend in Alaska that raised gyr falcons. He trapped them in the wild, and even hatched them in captivity. He was well known in the world of falconry. He even had one that lived in his house. I mean right in his house. He had a big cement block on top of his refrigerator for it to roost on. When you came in the door it was just right there – maybe two feet from your face. It was a beautiful bird, but imagine what the top and sides of that refrigerator looked like; bird crap covering the top and running down the sides. It also gave off a particularly stringent odor.  Lots of people called my friend, “the bird man”. His real name was Vern.

Vern was one of the most amazing men I ever met in my life. That is another whole story and I will get back to him one day. But, he always had falcons. Even as a boy when he lived in New York City. I mean right in the city. One time he was at our house for dinner and I said, “I think I might get a falcon.” I was just putting him on. I wanted to see what he would say. He responded aggressively, “What gives you the right to have a bird”? He went on a rant about birds having rights and that folks like me – people that don’t know anything about birds have no right to own one. Of course, he was right.

But all of these birds dying – that’s not right. Rachel Carson’s wrote a famous book that helped trigger the environmental movement entitled, “Silent Springs” – the title refers to a world without bird song. What kind of world would that be? Not very nice. I think of retired people I know who love to watch birds. They get outside; fair or foul. They travel around the world to see different species. They send money to organizations to help protect birds or bird habitat. Retirement would be well spent if one were to focus on birds.

I remember reading about birds when Europeans first came to North America. It is recorded that flocks of passenger pigeons use to block the sun for hours as they flew passed. Imagine – blocking out the sun for hours: millions of birds on the wing – in one flock. Today they are all gone; extinct. Not one left. What have we done?

The old “canary in the coal mine” comes to my mind. Rachel Carson talked about it. Perhaps our fate is closely tied to birds. Maybe we should pay a bit more attention. Watching birds, listening to birds, learning about birds: I can see how many retired folks go this way. It has to be interesting, and certainly worthwhile. On top of that it has to be fun.

This is Retirement Talk.