Birds. Have you seen one lately? Although they’re just about everywhere, most of us take them for granted. They’re literally above our radar.
Here in Iowa, birdwatchers are all ga-ga this week about the recent sightings of two species of birds never before seen in the state – the fork-tailed flycatcher, which is native to South America, and the black-tailed gull, which is normally found in east Asia. I’m a real amateur at this birdwatching stuff, but I’ve counted 33 species in my suburban backyard since I put up some bird feeders four years ago. They’re fun to watch from our dining room table.
Birds enjoy special status in many cultures and you may have interesting bird-related stories in your own personal history. I know that my mother-in-law has used the term “eats like a bird” when referring to thin people and “wise as an owl” is considered a compliment. Remember comedian George Gobel’s tagline: “Well, I’ll be a dirty bird?” Remember “Chickenman?”
I grew up knowing people named Bird, Pigeon and Robbins, used soap named Dove and had a friend that drove a Thunderbird. The thunderbird, by the way, is a mythical creature revered by some Native American tribes. And the headdress worn by Indian chiefs in my childhood history books were festooned with eagle feathers.
The albatross was a bad sign for mariners, but the first robin of spring was considered a good omen by my gardening friends. Ravens have a dark purpose, according to some, but my duck-hunting relatives anticipated these migrating meals-on-wings each fall. Likewise the pheasant.
Lots of friends had caged parakeets when I was a kid. The documentary film “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” tells the fascinating story of what can happen when a bunch of pets find their way back into the wild. Alfred Hitchcock saw “The Birds” in a more sinister light.
Larry Lehmer is a personal historian who helps people preserve their family histories. If you’d like to know more, check out his web site or send him an e-mail.
Flickr photo courtesy of Antoon's Foobar.