In praise of common birds

There’s a line in Harold and Maude, one of my favorite movies, where Maude says, “Dreyfus once wrote from Devil’s Island that he would see the most glorious birds. Many years later in Brittany, he realized they had only been seagulls. For me they will always be glorious birds.”

Maybe it’s spring, but lately birds have been catching my attention and the common ones are really quite extraordinary.

Gulls, ravens, sparrows and the like are amazingly adaptable creatures. Ravens are especially captivating with their silky black feathers and beaks like obsidian arrowheads.

Larger than crows, they make the most amazing sounds. They rattle and croak. They’re opportunists. Recently, I saw one on the roof of a truck tearing into a loaf of bread it no doubt stole from someone’s grocery. A man I know, a wildlife biologist, told me about a raven who used to revisit a highway worker each year because she brought him food.

They mate for life and in spring perform a graceful dive and dip through the sky.

Gulls don’t intrigue me as much except when I go to the dump. It’s a chore I’m not crazy about, but once there, I do like to watch the gulls that billow up over the mountain of trash like dandelion fluff in the wind.

I also love the way their adaptability. They nest in the eves of buildings, in abandoned vehicles and on telephone poles.

There’s something to be learned from common birds.



8 thoughts on “In praise of common birds

  1. I loved this post! I was doing some bird-watching of my own this past week. I was visiting friends who own a wonderful home overlooking the mouth of the Klamath River. The air above the mouth was almost crowded with osprey. They seemed to be cruising for fish in pairs, and communicating with each other while in the air. Ravens also flew in pairs, over both land and water, but always going somewhere else. Vultures were present too, circling the steep hillside above the mouth. I was actually above them, higher on Requa Hill, and I could see them describing both wide and tight circles, waiting for scent on the updraft, no doubt. They didn’t like being over water; when the wind blew them out over the river or the ocean, they veered right back. Each species had its own niche, and displayed appropriate behavior for that niche. It must be nice, in some ways, to be so sure of one’s place in the world.

      • How wonderful to know you think of me in connection with wild birds. Maybe I was a bird last time around?

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