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Don't spread your wings; keep trying to get in that bird feeder [commentary]

It's a time of year when bird euphemisms are at the forefront, thanks to springtime being graduation time.

Fledgling adults are encouraged to spread their wings and soar to new heights as they leave the nests of their parents' homes in search of the promises that are beyond the horizon.

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Remember, though, practical concerns about punctuality also figure into the avian advice offered to graduates. After all, the early bird gets the worm.

Our way of speaking is filled with references to birds, which are at once omnipresent and elusive. From a distance, birds are creatures that can be delightful. It's a real treat to walk along the Susquehanna River and see bald eagles scanning the water for fish or just resting in the branches of sturdy trees. Great blue herons also have a certain grace that makes them fascinating to watch, both in flight and in pursuit of fish, frogs and pretty much anything else they can spear with their beaks.

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I've even been disappointed at not being able to move in closer to get a look at certain birds, though on relatively rare occasions. A few weeks back, I happed upon a pair of plaited woodpeckers, the rather large, red-headed creatures evocative of the Woody Woodpecker cartoon. They were knocking some old dead trees apart and tolerated me for a few seconds. They're fairly skittish around people, even by bird standards.

Skittish, by the way, is how I like my birds. Generally, my preference is for them to take wing relatively soon after they see me and I them. It comes from having been in close proximity to birds on more irritating occasions than I'd care to remember.

For example, a few weeks back my son, Nick, and I were doing some yard work and the garage door was open. We were working on something a few paces away when Nick noticed the familiar call of a mourning dove (which he correctly identified) coming from closer than usual. We figured out it was coming from inside the garage, but spotting the bird wasn't as easy as you might think. Mourning doves blend in pretty well not only with woodland backgrounds, but also with stuff stored in garages.

We finally spotted the bird (Nick pointed it out to me) and spent a few minutes trying to shoo it back outside. Again, not as easy as it sounds.

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Almost as soon as it left, a second bird – probably the first one's mate – entered the garage and became agitated. This time we used a fishing net to capture it and send it on its way. Turns out this is the most practical way of dealing with indoor birds, though the bird wasn't crazy about it.

Which brings me to my point about birds and recent graduates. Cartoon birds abound in popular culture and, from the Road Runner to Foghorn Leghorn, they all have an air of intellect (or in Foghorn's case false intellect) that belies the truth. Birds are distinctly birdbrained, with all the derogatory meaning such an insult can convey.

Sure, crows may be smart, relative to other birds, but other birds are downright dullards. Even parrots I have met, though they can squawk a few human words, are pretty much on the same intellectual footing as frogs, snakes and fish. That is to say, at most times of year they are focused on either finding something to eat or keeping themselves from being eaten. Thus they either attack a pile of birdseed, or take to the air as soon as they hear someone approaching.

They are none too sensible, as evidenced by the mourning doves in my garage and any number of equally foolish birds that end up flitting around inside the typical Home Depot or Lowes.

Thus the euphemisms about graduates spreading their wings and waking up early enough to get morning's first worm have little practical value.

The avian-themed advice I would offer to graduates is along a different line: do everything you can to avoid making bird-brained moves, which are generally short-sighted. Finding food and not being eaten are skills you've probably mastered by now. Instead I'd suggest being more like another creature that's only marginally brighter than a bird, but has a quality that allows it to unlock just about any bird feeder. The squirrel is persistent, and being persistent is a quality that is about as useful as it gets for human beings.

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