Last week, when my brother, our cousin Nancy and I were having lunch on my building’s roof deck (I made the sandwiches, Nancy provided the chips and pickles), we saw a bird.
Hey wow! you’re saying, your words dripping with sarcasm and maybe pickle juice. Because why would this be worthy of an announcement? Seeing a bird, outdoors? Where they live? Wowser.
Well, because pretty quickly we realized it was not an ordinary bird. (To me, “ordinary bird” in New York City is one of those scrabbling little brown dirty things that race along the sidewalk, pretending to be mice and making me cringe.)
Since Nancy has been a Central Park bird watcher, we turned to her as our expert. She wasn’t sure about the bird, so we collected info — that is, did it have color under its beak? No. Did it have a colorful underbelly? No. Like that — and Nancy took the description home to look it up in her bird book.
The most notable aspect of this bird was its long, long tail which it flicked up and down as it sat on an upper roof terrace. That tail was hypnotic, producing out of a trio of rational New Yorkers the fascinating, if repetitive, comment, “There it goes again!”
Via email, I asked Nancy if she’d found the bird. She replied that it might be a bobolink. That was exciting! Not only have I never seen a bobolink, I haven’t heard that bird name maybe ever.
I took a look at the pictures but became unsure. For one thing, the description of the bobolink’s habitat did not quite match the elements of a city roof deck:
Bobolinks are birds of tall grasslands, uncut pastures, overgrown fields and meadows, and the continent’s remaining prairies. While molting and on migration, look for them in marshes and in agricultural fields, particularly rice fields.
So I did what we all do now when we don’t know something. I asked Google about long-tailed birds and then, when those pictures were not right, I modified the question to North American long-tailed small birds.
My excitement is mitigated by recalling my father, confined to a wheelchair with emphysema (yes, lifetime of smoking), watching the bird feeder outside his window, with a bird book on his lap. A father who’d never exhibited any interest in any nature (including his kids) until he was dying.
That’s when I realized how restrictive age and illness can be to brilliant human activities. I don’t want to become an old lady bird watcher but, on the other hand, it wouldn’t be a shameful thing, like developing a hobby out of scrapbooking.
No, if forced to choose, I’ll take the birds.