Do birds matter? Why, indeed they do …

Published 9:47 am Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

I never knew Andy Griffith.

I felt as if I did, but I never paid property taxes in Mayberry.

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Had I known Andy, he’d have described me thus, “He’s a little bit peculiar.”

I’m peculiar in many ways and more than a little bit. I talk to myself. A lot. I used to talk to myself when shooting free throws or standing in the batter’s box. I talk to myself while driving and when trying to consume lutefisk. I talk to myself in public and at home. Some say it’s OK to talk to yourself as long as you don’t listen or talk back. I do both.

I often talk to myself about birds. I like birds.

A recent cover of Audubon magazine read, “Why birds matter.”

The Bible has around 300 references to birds scattered about its pages. Our ancestors depended upon birds to forecast weather and mark the change of seasons. Weather folklore said if birds fly low, then rain we shall know. Swallows high, staying dry. If birds feed and sing during a rain, it will rain for a long time.

Shakespeare said, “Hark, the meadowlark doth bark.”

That was Rudy Shakespeare. He ran a cotton candy cart and said odd things.

A less famous Shakespeare, William, wrote often about birds. That included the blackbird, bunting, cormorant, crow, cuckoo, dove, duck, eagle, falcon, finch, goose, gull, heron, jay, kestrel, kingfisher, kite, lapwing, lark, loon, magpie, mallard, nightingale, osprey, ostrich, owl, parrot, partridge, peacock, pelican, pheasant, pigeon, quail, raven, rook, snipe, sparrow, starling, swallow, swan, thrush, turkey, vulture, woodcock, wren, and others. He wrote things that made me go “hmm” like “True hope is swift and flies with swallow’s wings” in “Richard III.”

Birds are colorful enough that if they had wheels, they could be racecars. Birds may not add to a human’s life expectancy, but they add riches to a life. The world is a great choir. Each species has a voice. The song is diminished by the loss of a single voice. Here is some information about our avian friends.

What do you give a seasick gull? Plenty of room.

How can I tell if a crow is a male or a female? Toss out a piece of bread. If she eats it, that’s a female. If he eats it, that’s a male crow.

Why is one leg of Canada geese in a V-formation longer than the other? Because there are more geese in one.

How can I tell if an immature bald eagle is male or female? My wife says that if it’s immature, it’s a male.

How do I count birds? Count the legs and divide by two.

Birdfeeders work best when placed outside the house.

About half our birds are egglayers. The rest are males.

I donned my favorite shirt before sitting down to eat like a bird. I looked like a sitting duck, but fine feathers make fine birds. I was as proud as a peacock that I wasn’t forced to eat crow. That would have been for the birds. The early bird gets the worm and I was as free as a bird after putting the breakfast dishes in the sink. It’s an ill bird that fouls its own nest. A little bird told me — the same little bird that blabs about the birds and bees — that birds of a feather flock together. I got a bird’s-eye view of my yard, watching like a hawk with an eagle eye, realizing that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush (also the best way to eat chicken). Birds in their little nests agree that I wouldn’t kill two birds with one stone, so I stepped outside. I was as crazy as a loon because it was lovely weather for ducks. I tried to take to the downpour as a duck takes to water. I sought to be as happy as a lark on a day when sunlight was as scarce as hen’s teeth. Rain ran off me like water off a duck’s back. I didn’t want to lay an egg or kill the goose that laid the golden egg, so I went back into the house. It was a short walk as the crow flies. Knowing enough to come in out of the rain made this birdbrain feel as wise as an owl. It gave me goose bumps to think that I might one day be cuckoo enough to play Angry Birds.

Why birds matter?

Birds matter because no one knows what form angels take.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.