Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bird Expectations

When we first moved to the Bluegrass, the long stretch of property behind our apartment building was separated from the next property by a variety of large bushes, undergrowth, and a line of tall trees.

A utility company butchered the trees, stripping them of most of their branches and their magnificent height. Later, our new landlord removed all the bushes and undergrowth to erect a fence between the properties.

When I think about habitat loss, it usually involves expanded agricultural endeavors, housing and commercial developments, or natural disasters. What had happened in my own (albeit rented) backyard was no different, though. The homes of who knows which species or how many of them were obliterated in a matter of days by good intentions.

I thought more about habitat loss recently when I read that some migratory birds return to the nests they build, year after year. Not just the geographic area they lived in, but the VERY NEST.

What happens to birds who, after traveling hundreds or thousands of miles, return to find their nests gone—or the nest and the whole bird neighborhood have vanished? I suspect they start over again in some cases. In others, though, I wonder how much farther the birds have to travel to find an appropriate environment for their dwelling. And do they have the energy and search capacity to sustain the journey? (Yeah, I could research these questions, but as I write with pen to paper, the sirens keep warning that a tornado is approaching. I’ve shut the computer down until the scary weather moves on.)

Worse than discovering that your nest—which you built with heart and engineering genius—is gone must be the realization that your entire species is gone; only you remain.

Last night I opened the latest issue of Poetry magazine to read one poem before going to bed. Strangely, it illustrated some of my ruminations about birds and extinction, despair and yearning.

Bird Left Behind
by Sophie Cabot Black

As for her, the circumstances must be ordinary
And so the return. Door unlocked. The path mowed
Right to the oiled gate; the pasture

Cleared of stone and alder. All untouched
Enough to enter. The man or woman
Off down the valley or working above

Treeline. No other sound but a few strays
Hurrying through the dusk as if the end
Will begin, certain and with nothing

More to say. She does not know she does not know.
Having come back to find her kind
And none being left she took herself up

Into a tree unclear what to do next save only
Sing the song she wanted sung back to her.

[Top pic from Hummingbirds at Home.]

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