What a hoot!

June 24, 2022 William A. Gralnick
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I’ve always loved listening to birds. When I was a kid, I waited impatiently for the robins’ return. They’d show up around the time that the crocuses were pushing their way into the not quite yet spring air. Their trill portended good things like getting back out on the street to play.

As I grew up and moved around, I realized that different places had different birds. The sights and sounds of the birds in Washington, D.C., where I went to college and graduate school, were different than those in Brooklyn. It was a slightly warmer climate. It had a myriad of trees. Pushing a little further south into the Shenandoah Valley, became a paradise of watching and listening. It’s a forest that abuts up against a river that has seven bends if I remember correctly. The birds are so plentiful and diverse that I found a long-playing record (remember those?) of the valley’s birds at a gift shop in Shenandoah National Park. My mom loved birds. I bought it for her. She hated it. Oh well.

My next stop was Johnstown, Pa. There were birds, but seemingly fewer. I’d attribute that to the coal and steel industries creating wicked air pollution. Once however one got up into the Georgia Mountains that all changed. Forests and birds go together.

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Then it was off to Atlanta, Ga. Now I was in a state whose seasons were quite different from what I’d experienced. The two best ones were the longest (spring and fall), while summer and winter, usually moderate, ended before their seasonal counterparts up north. In addition, when I lived in Atlanta, in the mid-70s, Atlanta had the most trees capita of any city in the nation. That, friends, is what I’d call bird heaven. Even some birds I knew, like Chickadees, thrushes, and woodpeckers, had cousins who looked different.

The birds didn’t seem as diverse in Boulder, Colorado, my next stop. That could’ve been because there was little diversity in the trees. Aspens were everywhere, as were pine trees. Then I got to Florida. I fell in love with pelicans. I loved egrets and herons, even though after 30 years, I’m still not sure which is which. Flamingos are the cat’s meow of birds. I’ve even seen a flock of Sandhill Cranes, a sight I fear my grandchildren will not see because of their drastically reduced numbers. While shy, they seem pretty composed. If you’re quiet and calm, you can get up relatively close and see the majesty they project.

But all this leads up to a recent experience at home. I love walking the dog in the morning and the evening because the birds are calling “good morning!” and “have a good night” to each other. The trees sing out. We have a resident red-headed woodpecker who I think has banged his head a few too many times. Some days he alights on the roof and taps out machine-gun-like sounds on the gutters instead of pecking the trees. What he gets out of that, I don’t know, but from the length of time he does it, he must know something about gutters I don’t.

The other night came the piece de resistance. As dog and I took our evening walk, I spied a little bird, no more than four inches high, beaking around in the grass between two driveways. As we approached, he effortlessly jumped (yes, I know, flew is the right word, but it looked like a giant hop) to the top of a car. There I got up close and personal. It was an owl. I haven’t looked him up yet. I don’t know if it was a baby owl or a small variety like the burrowing owl. From his size I’m betting he’s the protected Burrowing Owl. He had a certain je ne sais quoi about him. We looked at each other like we were new experiences for us both. I don’t know how many humans he’d been this close to; I’d never been that close to an owl. He had those amazing owl eyes that see forever distances. His facial feathers formed a frame for his eyes. Interested in me as he was, he was more interested in food, so his head was constantly turning. Owl’s heads are on a swivel, it seems. He looked so far over his shoulders if I tried that dislocation would be what the EMT’s would be dealing with.

The conclusion? Look and listen. Read the factoid in the Eagle about the birds of Brooklyn. The birds are a freebee, not usual in the world of entertainment. When you do listen, you’ll find they have a way of touching your soul if you let them—at least from my perspective.

Bill reminds you ‘tis the season for summer reading. Light, funny, engaging are both, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales From Brooklyn” and “George Washington Didn’t Sleep Here.” Both are coming-of-age books, a memoir series through college. Great endorsements. Great reviews. Amazon.com.


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