There are layers of secret sub-cultures in our neighborhood that will reveal themselves to the patient observer. Deer roam the forests behind our houses and sneak up into our yards at night to nibble the shrubs and flowers. A red fox flashes across the ravine at the edge of the woods. Squirrels chatter away, chasing each other through the tree tops and then disappear into a small round hole in an old birch tree. Worms and slugs do what they do in the low-down unseen realms of grasses, mulch and mud. Whole societies coexist side by side on every block, as we come and go, largely oblivious.
And then there are the birds! They are harder to miss. If only I could know all their secrets. I have been listening to their songs and observing them closely this Spring. I found a tiny blue egg-shell on the ground, discarded by its inhabitant, hopefully in birth and not death. (My cat, Olivia, slinks under the rose bush, avoiding my eye.) After I found the egg, I began noticing that robins are building lots of small nests in the cherry trees along the sidewalks. One day I was lucky enough to have my camera with me when I saw a Mother Robin sitting in her nest. I snapped a quick picture before startling her into flight. Guiltily, I stood on tiptoe, raised my camera above my head, leaned into the branches and took a blind shot of the nest from above. The photo revealed one perfect blue egg.
We have a favorite grey bird that we often see around our yard, one of whom entertained us once by swooping down from the pear tree and dive bombing our menacing cat. My son nicknamed the bird “Chuh.” Not the most charming moniker, but this is the sound that it makes, “Chuh! Chuh! Chuh!” as if furiously admonishing someone. Then, in sudden forgiveness, it breaks into more varied and lyrical cries, as if it had so much more to say. One early morning I saw Chuh perched in my neighbor’s birch tree. I crept in very close, til I was only a few feet away. He didn’t move, but began to sing. I was astounded by the variety of beautiful sounds that he could make. What does it mean? I stood very still, watching and listening for a long time, until he finished his soliloquy and flew away.
I decided I had to identify Chuh. After some online research, I discovered the fantastic website, WhatBird.com. It has a search database that allows you to plug in different characteristics to identify your bird. It turns out that Chuh is a Northern Mockingbird. I had to laugh when the description said, “The Northern Mockingbird voraciously defends its territory, attacking intruders including house pets and even people.” So homeownership in suburbia does not preclude other creatures from making their own claims. Look out, Olivia!