The birds were always there but I never noticed them before music brought us together. In those early days when I was trying so hard to figure out who was in the chorus it seemed impossible to ever know them. When they started coming to the window every morning for a snack and to hear me practice–I referred to this later as “The Breakfast Club”–I was astounded to see them flying toward me. There was one Disney/Snow White moment when several House Sparrows all came to greet me as I stood by the open window. I had never noticed before how beautiful their variegated shades of brown could be.
When the doves landed on the window and I made eye contact with them I wondered how one relates to a creature that has flat button-like eyes that have an almost pasted-on appearance. Rock Pigeons in the park downtown were even worse, they had bright orange eyes. And they were always staring at me with one eye or the other. And they grumbled.
As I started to get used to birds flying around me, I began to realize that flight in itself could be a form of communication. I was feeding birds in the city for a while because I wanted to see what they were like in a more natural setting than landing on my window sill. I’ll never forget the first House Sparrow who whisked by my ear after the birds started to recognize me and looked forward to my visits. I realized this was a greeting, a bird hello. The pigeons would all wait for me in the cold weather and when I showed up, they would fly to the ground around me and form a procession, as we all walked slowly up the hill to the bench where I would sit, sometimes one pigeon riding on my shoulder and another on my hat. The human-pigeon relationship has gone on for so long, making pigeons easy to observe. I learned a lot about flock behavior from those birds, and I began to look forward to seeing certain individuals as they revealed their personalities.
Meanwhile back at the ranch I started making friends with Elvis the American Crow, but the first time he made a beeline toward the open window I almost bolted from the room. I held my ground and marveled at the velvet whisper of his wings as he hovered by the window sill to snatch a peanut off the ledge, thinking to myself “crows don’t hover, do they?” In any event I was cured thereafter of infrequent but strange nightmares where foreign creatures were buzzing around my head. I began to welcome flying beings.
It was never enough for me to simply observe birds; I wanted to get to know them. I wanted intimacy, but on their own terms. I would sit back and wait to see what they did, never forcing them to be tame. But with the pigeons, I finally decided to see what would happen if I put something in my hand. It was funny to watch the dominant bird walk over timidly and then bat like hell at my hand with his wing, as if to fight it, although I think he was just trying to get me to drop the loot. Weeks or months later, it may have been the same bird who was sitting on my hand shoeing away the competition, or starting a panic flight and coming back down to feed while the others were still fleeing an imaginary predator.
Years later, Red-Winged Blackbirds fly toward me, red epaulets flashing, whistling, displaying at my feet, begging me for a peanut.