I’ve never been as aware of the birds around my house as I have these past two months, when I’ve had a front-row seat at each of the many windows. I’ve seen new things in old places, and old things in a new way.
- Via text my aunt identified for me the song sparrow building a nest in the evergreen right outside my home office window. “I see the black dot on the chest,” she said. My aunt saw a detail. I saw a bird who was diligent in building a very protected nest—so protected that I can’t tell if there are any eggs—though there are plenty of grasses streaming from the unseen nest.
- I now know what an Eastern Phoebe is. It keeps trying to bust all of my windows. Very persistent.
- The red-headed woodpecker by the start of our street stuns me every time with its clean lines between red, white, and black feathers. What detail!
- Mama robin has been a favorite. As I watched her nest on a wet and windy day I saw one, then two, and the next day three little blue eggs—the kind that as a kid I’d always look for pieces of under trees. Mama robin’s eggs mean promise to me. And the babies, still so scrawny—they demonstrate trust.
- Then I’ve decided to bring one bird to me consistently. Hummingbirds. I saw one looking for food, but my fuchsia peonies haven’t quite bloomed. So I dissolved sugar in water (1:4 ratio) and set up the feeder yesterday. This bird interaction means purpose and intentionality to me.
- A bonus—my hummingbird feeder hasn’t even been up 24 hours, but the wrought iron shepherd’s crook has already been a perfect resting place for the song sparrow and at least one purple finch. Could we call this networking?
- Sure there are cardinals and blue jays and black-capped chickadees and titmice. And don’t get me started on the 11 goslings my mother-in-law stopped to count on the nearby lake. They’re growing so fast!
Basically, I’ve always had a hard time identifying and remembering bird species. This time, sitting still and watching, even doing research and some social media networking, I think I’ve invested enough in wanting to know about my visitors that I’ll remember them this time. We have a new relationship now that I’ve given them more attention than a passing glance or a hello or a “what’s that?”
What does this mean for the fall, or whenever I’m back in my office? Will I find time to stop and look at my colleagues in the new ways I’ve been seeing these birds? Will I see qualities I hadn’t noticed before? Will I stop to appreciate them?
What if when I’m back in the classroom, or working with my writing tutor staff, I see these individuals anew as well—each individual expression of feathers and chirps and wobbles—a gift of sorts?
I’m looking forward to it. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep birdwatching. It sure beats all the screen time.
Ellen Sprague is assistant director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and she absolutely loves working with her colleagues, students, and writing tutors.