All posts tagged: birds

Two zebra finches snuggling on a twig

Short Story: The Fledgling

A child had died in the neighborhood. A four-year-old girl called Molly. The day it happened, there had been snow. Molly and her mother, Sarah, went out to shovel the front steps. They took the dog, an eager, young chocolate Labrador. The snow was heavy and wet, the kind that packs well. Molly had just learned to make snowballs. Afterwards, the neighbors would point to the steep slope of the yard, the tiered garden beds, the rows of shrubbery wrapped in misshapen bundles of burlap and twine. There was no space to play, and the child was always running around in the boulevard. Molly had hurled a snowball into the street and followed as the dog went after it. Neither of them noticed the car, but Sarah, hearing the crunch of tires in snow, looked up from the shovel and said, “Molly, stop! Car!” The little girl halted, teetering at the curb, still laughing at the Labrador as it scrambled to find the snowball in the white slush of the road. The car rolled forward …

The Hidden Lives of Owls

Giving a Hoot

In The Hidden Lives of Owls (Sasquatch Books, August 2016), naturalist Leigh Calvez explores her newfound curiosity about owls—tagging along with wildlife biologists and citizen scientists for a year as they study 11 Pacific Northwest species. This illuminating journey into owl lore, habits, and biology also provides an insightful look at regional efforts to protect the bird and its habitats from human industry and climate change. On one outing, Calvez and a team of forest service “hooters” visit one of central Washington’s few remaining old-growth forests, bushwhacking through dead trees and brush to check on a pair of rare nesting spotted owls. Calvez puts a live mouse on a branch and offers it to the male owl, who delivers it to the female—a sure sign that she is sitting on eggs. “The hope for spotted owls on the eastern slopes of the Cascades rested squarely on this nest,” she writes. Read more [Appeared in Sierra Magazine]

William and his goose.

On Living with Geese

The goose arrived in early Autumn. William, my husband, was standing on top of the shed, working on the roof. The shed was ramshackle, its floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with bottles and bags of powders—alumina, bentonite, borax, cobalt oxide and lithium carbonate—wood working tools, packing peanuts, and weathered cardboard boxes. It belonged to his mother, Daphne. Nearly eighty and a working potter, she used the shed to mix her glazes and pack her pottery off to folks around the country. William’s father, Roger, had built it in the seventies, and the asphalt shingles were so curled and cupped that the roofing nails had all been exposed and were bleeding rust. As William pulled the nails out, steel strained against the wood, creating a series of rapid screeches—something like a manic squeaky toy or the call of a domestic goose. Read more [Appeared in Switchback literary magazine]

Saved by the Birds

When life’s hard decisions are staring you down, the thing to do is procrastinate. Neil Hayward, a shy Englishman living in Boston needs to figure out how to jumpstart his erstwhile career, what to do about his lovely girlfriend, and why, at the ripe age of 39, it seems like the best of life is behind him. Instead, he goes to see a rare Nutting’s flycatcher in Lake Havasu, Arizona. And then a red-flanked bluetail in Vancouver, a gray partridge in Calgary, and ultimately more than 700 birds across North America. Suddenly a small midlife crisis becomes a Big Year of birding—and the subject of his memoir Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year (Bloomsbury USA, June 2016). Read more [Appeared in Sierra Magazine]

this is not george washington's pig

George Washington’s Piggs

I’ve been working on an essay about a goose that flew into the yard and fell in love with William, my husband. In the course of my research, I found an amazingly funny letter that Gouverneur Morris wrote to George Washington in the fall of 1788. I could not, in the end, use it — and it was a hard darling to kill — so here is an excerpt: I promised you some Chinese piggs, a promise which I can perform only by halves for my boar, being much addicted to gallantry, hung himself in pursuit of meer common sows. And his consort, to asswage her melancholy (for what else can helpless widows do) took up with a paramour of vulgar races, and thus her grunting progeny have jowls and bellies less big by half than their dam. Such however as I have, such send I unto you. And to piece and patch the matter as well as I may, in company with the piggs shall be sent a pair of Chinese geese which are really …

The Genius of Birds book cover


Neurobiologists once thought that birds possessed tiny, reptilian brains hardwired for instinctive responses to the world. Now they know better. In her latest book, The Genius of Birds (Penguin Press, 2016), Jennifer Ackerman explores new research that shows how closely bird brains resemble our own. They, too, have a cerebral-cortex-like system in the forebrain, rapidly firing neurotransmitters, and pathways between the brain regions. Read more [Appeared in Sierra Magazine. Photo credit: Lori Eanes]

The Songbird’s Egg

A letter arrived on Saturday, describing an incident with an egg that filled me with bright-green envy and true delight at once. Although one cannot blame the author for declining to pass along the pale, blue egg of hope, it might have smarted less if she hadn’t expressed it quite so poetically. Here follows the lovely little note: Yesterday, while bringing out the garbage early in the morning, I nearly stepped on a pale, pale blue bird’s egg — an egg no longer than the bowl of a baby’s spoon. I expected the egg to be smashed or cracked given that it was on the concrete and within [word smudged] of someone’s shoe, but it was not. The egg was intact and shaded, in part, by a fuzzy bird feather that was stuck to the top of the egg like a royal fascinator. Knowing your fondness for little birds, my initial thought was to ship off this brown-speckled, pale-blue egg to your doorstep. surely this egg must be a sign of good fortune, and that is where …