Before you read any further, I will tell you the moral of this tale. There is so much right in front of our eyes we just don’t see because we are busy looking for something else. I stumbled onto this discovery now that the blackbirds have gone. This is a soaring bird story that begins with bears and bird feeders. On my side of the mountain, bears compete for the birds’ food. Paws up for a fast, fatty protein shake, and the birds have nothing left. And no one wants to attract the bear population, so residents in our community are encouraged to bring in the feeders.
I have missed the bird feeder activity in this new home. I consider birds more than passing visitors. Bird song and dashes of color have the power to lift my heart and pull my attention away from fretting. As we entered deeper into winter the only winged sightings in my new world were a pair of blackbirds. And they were daily visitors, the only sky dots in the horizon I could count on seeing from my work space. I somewhat begrudgingly began to anticipate their appearances, and on some days I could be swept up in their flight patterns. On occasion three or four blackbirds appeared high above the hardwoods and pines, dipping and swooping, and I imagine working together to find a meal or two.
Drawn to the neighbor’s chicken coop, the birds with huge beaks, wide wing spans, and a bit of a ruffled appearance would strut about the fence with a high step, as though on parade. At times I felt that later in the day they intentionally joined me for my afternoon walk. While I was silent, they could keep up a running commentary with an amazing variation of crucks, gurgles, and broken door bell sounds.
The last time I had an up close encounter, Kate, my red headed border collie, and I were making a slow turn of the town park, a place designed as natural habitat for flora, fauna, and wildlife creatures. I was startled into a standing tree pose by a song like none I had ever heard, a deep throated call that seemed at the same time to be knocking and gargling. It was actually quite beautiful, like a chord from Benjamin Britten. From a short distance came a resounding response. I would not move for fear this awesome moment would pass too soon. All the while my eyes scanned the tree tops to identify the sources. After a prolonged period of no activity, just as Kate and I continued our circular path, two blackbirds merged from different trees, flying so close I wanted to reach up and touch.
Instead I returned home determined to learn more about the crows that had companioned my winter. If I couldn’t see the finches and nuthatches, the robins and the bluebirds, I could come to appreciate the blackbirds that were clearly visible.
A click on links to learn about crows created a moment of cognitive dissonance – what I was recording in my notes conflicted with what I held to be certainly true. Several facts, however, shifted my point of reference. Crows like crowds and hang out in large extended families. They flap-flap-flap their wings, and for the most part caw, caw, caw. Ravens! Ravens are more solitary, often sighted in pairs, can entertain with graceful soaring, gliding, flights and only humans can exceed the vocal range of ravens. All winter I had been accompanied by ravens and I did not take the time or attention to come to know them and respectfully call them by name. Though seen in larger numbers and with greater frequency in the Northern and Western states, the ravens also roost in the mountains of western North Carolina.
While raven thoughts may turn to high school literature, and Edgar Allen Poe’s dreary winter night disturbance – a visitor rapping and tapping at the chamber door, I am drawn to the Greek mythology of the raven as symbol of good luck. However, I missed the message because I failed to look closely at the messenger. I wanted to see red birds, blue birds, snow birds, and finches and nearly ignored the insistent presence of Apollo’s herald. I would be remiss if I did not share the other reported side of a raven’s reputation for being naughty, creating annoying problems from stealing golf balls to pecking holes in airplanes wings – clearly attacking strangers inhabiting their space.
Just as I was eager to shout out a greeting, welcoming the ravens to my territory, I noticed their sudden disappearance. I surmise that they have flown to higher altitudes for a bit of nesting this spring. The bears are out of their dens, and the buds and insects, worms surfacing after spring rains, have attracted birds of many varied feathers and am I over the moon excited, but now I have an eye that will never stop scanning the skies for the jet black titled wings of the raven.
Thanks Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, my go to source for all I want to know about birds: