Anne's Diary

The Birds

Spring is here and the hummingbirds are back at our feeder. In my lifetime, I have been held hostage by hummers and waged a losing war with squirrels.

One of my favorite birds is the mockingbird. These birds have no songs of their own, so they steal the music of other birds as they migrate back and forth. Then, when they reach their destination in the spring, they perch on branches at the tops of trees, where they can eat plenty of tasty insects, and run through their repertoire of bird songs, one after the other nonstop, in order to try to catch a music-loving female. The human version of this would be a male with an ipod (who wants to get laid) saying, "Have you heard this one? How about this one?"

There's a lovely book titled "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee that is assigned in high school English classes all over the country. In it, we learn that it's illegal to kill a mockingbird. That's the law in Texas too, and when I lived there, I always thought it was rather odd, since Texans love to shoot guns and it's legal to hunt almost anything there.

But if it WAS legal to shoot them, there would probably be no mockers left and here's why: A farmer or rancher who is tired at the end of the day finally gets a chance to lie down and what does he hear coming through his bedroom window? A mockingbird running through its song list again and again and again. It's enough to make him cry "Enough!" and pick up rifle he keeps under the bed, stalk outside and shoot the darn thing so he can finally get some sleep.

While the thought of spring brings images of lovely birds to mind, there are hated birds around as well. In New York City, it was pigeons. These are actually not native to the US but were imported by lonely Europeans who missed the messy birds they were so used to seeing in their piazzas back home. They are helpful to some extent, in that they seem to be bird vacuum cleaners, in that they will eat literally anything they find on the ground that CAN be eaten. The trouble is, they give as good as they get, leaving bird shit all over everything. Like many annoying bird breeds, they like to congregate together in the same place so as to maximize their bad habits. On the first street we lived on in New York, there was a major parking problem, but in spite of this, there was always a parking space available underneath what we called "the pigeon pole." When the poor driver returned to find his car covered with bird shit, he understood why he had located a place to park.

The authorities in New York would try to reduce the pigeon population by leaving poison out for them in the park. When they did this, they would put up signs warning about "rat poison," but they were actually trying to poison the pigeons, because rats favor restaurant kitchens and alleys with overturned garbage cans and do not forage for food in the grass. The "rat" signs were put up so as not to get any backlash from bird lovers (I guess they assumed there were no rat lovers around).

There are few pigeons in California, but there are obnoxious birds to take their place. Crows abound here and they are NOISY birds: Not for them the beautiful warbling trills of their cousins or even the interesting musical repertoire of the mocker. But gulls are the REAL pigeons of seaside areas and they share with their cousins a certain joy in depositing bird shit all over the place. I finally found a window washer and paid plenty to get my windows all sparkling and clean for spring. I look out our bedroom windows the next day and you know what I saw: The gulls had taken this to be some sort of challenge and COVERED them with bird doo. I've decided to wait until the mating season is over to get them washed again, since I suspect this has something to do with kinky bird sex, since the problem seems to increase in the spring.

One of my favorite movies is Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." Whitley once tricked a friend who was deathly afraid of birds into going with him to see it by telling him it was a film of the ancient Greek play by the same name, with predictable results. He was appalled simply the SIGHT of so many birds, he didn't need to wait for an attack. When the camera closed in on a group of seemingly benign birds lining an overhead wire, he jumped out of his seat and cried, "Oh my God, this is awful!," which was followed by a chorus of "Shhhs" from the rest of the theater.

I heard an interview of the actress Tippi Hedren the other day, who talked about being in the film. We all wonder how they trained those birds to dive bomb the humans, but it turns out they didn't: When it was time to film one of the scenes, the crew would simply open huge boxes of live birds and heave them at the actors so that the birds would all fly out towards them.

Hedren said that she was worried about the bird attacks, but was assured by Hitchcock that they were going to use mechanical birds. Then the first day of filming, the assistant director came up and said he needed to talk to her. She said, "I knew there was something wrong, because he wouldn't look at me, he just looked at the ground." He burst out with the information that they were actually using real birds, then ran from the room, and before she had time to take in the information, they called her to the set.

Meanwhile, I'm going to remember to keep the hummer food fresh, because they turn up their little beaks at it if it gets too old. And if we forget to refill the feeder, they remind us with that loud "tut tut" noise they have. I've never seen any baby hummingbirds, but a gardener at our country house once found one of their tiny nests. She said it was lined with spider web silk.

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