Eyes to the Skies

 

Black Vulture landing on telephone pole - photo courtesy of Dena Drenner

I think of this saying so often because my eyes are so easily guided there. Just this morning leaving the house my eyes were drawn upward watching a flock of starlings dance and swim in the sky. Two flocks of them interacting and weaving in and out from one another. A few words that came to mind were “flowing”, “awesome”, and “artistic”.

 

Further down the road I caught the familiar flight pattern of a crow. I really enjoy watching crows. I wish I could pull my Jeep over and just sit and watch. Driving down the busy road today, this was not an option so I slowed down and watched the laborious wing flaps of a solo crow this morning. He was flying upward and there he perched atop a telephone pole. There he perched and looked around. I could have just stopped there in the middle of the street and watched and wondered what was going through his creative mind. Traffic was patiently putting up with my decrease in speed. I quickly sped up to the speed limit and headed to my destination.

I have the fortune of being able to come in close encounters with two species of corvids, a crow and a blue jay. I see much similarity in how they move their heads and eyes in observing their environment. I see the similarity in how they observe me. They both look at me in a unique way than which other birds do that I’ve come in contact with. They look at me with a message in their eyes. There is communication happening, but can I understand it? As much as I’d like to think at how well I may be able to communicate with them on any one interaction, there is I’m sure, so much more communication being attempted than I could ever read. Ah, the fascination of mine grows with these birds. I will forever be in awe of them. Forever.

In the mornings before the sun rises, I often hear a call of a distant crow. Each time I hear this I always say softly to myself “Hello crow”. Soon after as the sun begins to rise, I’ll hear the numerous sounds of the energetic and ever investigating blue jays. “Hello blue jay”. For whatever reason I don’t know and didn’t realize until now, these are the only two species of birds I say hello to when I hear them or see them. Others make my jaw drop in amazement of their beauty in flight and interaction with the sky.

Have you ever sat in your back yard and leaned your head back and taken the time to observe for just 5 minutes, to what happens above you on a daily basis? Take 10 minutes. I did this once and I remember the day I did it. I was sitting in the aviary working on a project. I needed to take a break and leaned back in my chair, took a deep breath to clear my head and sat there staring at the empty sky while I cleared my thoughts. Soon a bird passed that caught my attention. I watched him fly out of sight. Soon I saw a smaller bird fluttering around a larger bird which looked like the same species. “I wonder if that is a parent teaching a fledgling.” Soon I started observing the same call from two different trees. Soon I saw this same fledgling flying to the call from one tree, and then soon flying to the call from the other. “Am I really seeing and observing two parents aiding in teaching their chick to fly?” I sat up in amazement but quickly learned my view was better leaning back in my chair. “How awesome is this?” I thought.

Here came a few crows. I heard their ‘caws’ moving in from a distance’. Here they came, all three of them. I watched the smaller birds head back to their trees.

Einstein, program Screech Owl, overlooking the house sparrows foraging in the aviary.

The laborious but beautiful flight of the crows. They perched high in the neighbors tree. I saw a blue jay fluttering about that tree. I heard the call of the blue jay. I could assume he was not happy, not sure but he sure was rustled from his tree and didn’t settle down until the crow took flight again. Off they went to another tree. I swiveled my chair around to follow them. I saw them up there in the tree swaying up and down on their small branches. They soon took off in flight giving out their ‘caws’. “What are they communicating to each other and those in their environment?” I wondered. I also caught myself almost holding my breath hoping they wouldn’t leave my sight and just fly from tree to tree so I had more time to observe them. Their caw grew distant and eventually faded. “Thanks for coming by” I thought. What an amazing bird.

 

Soon the sky filled with passing birds. A quick sight of a flock of doves. I love watching flocks of doves. They remind me of cockatiels. I often wonder what a flock of flying cockatiels looks like and hang on the lingering sight of the doves quickly disappearing behind the large maple tree.

The chirps of the house sparrows that gather daily in the bush next to my patio table caught my attention. I could sit and watch them forever as I often do. They hang out in that bush and chirp away. I try to observe who’s chirping and who reacts to that chirp. There is obvious communication in those chirps. I watch them gather in their favored areas of the neighbors back yard and in the gutters of my house and garage. It was funny, one day I was sitting in the aviary working on my computer. I thought I felt something wet hit my hand. Then I swore I felt something wet on my face. I beginning to think I was imagining things when I saw drops of water on my computer screen. I turned behind me and noticed this rain shower being produced in the corner of my second story patio. I quietly stood up and backed up. There were three house sparrows there having a hay day taking a bath in a puddle of water that gathered in the corner of the patio. They caught sight of me observing them and immediately took flight.

It’s amazing what I’ve learned this summer watching those house sparrows. I’ve watched the adults take off for long periods of the day while the young ones stayed behind in that bush. I watched the young ones bounce around and fly from branch to branch. I watched them fly around the neighbors back yard and I even began throwing bird food onto the ground inside my aviary near my patio to bring them closer so I could observe them better. They came. They learned to squeeze through the netting. I eventually lifted the netting in a few areas near the patio table to give them easier access. I watched them from my chair, and they observed me very cautiously. I smiled. I smiled a lot. Soon a thrush of small brown birds came back to the bush and the bush was alive again with movement and sound. “Mom and dad are home guys” I thought.

Over the summer I learned to turn and observe the environment when I heard the house sparrows take off in flight. If you watch close enough you’ll begin to know the difference in flight and if there is immediacy behind it. When you hear the immediacy, look around. Often I saw the neighborhood Red-Tailed Hawk soaring above. “Ah there you are you amazing creature, you!” I’ve tipped my head back enough and watched this rugged looking Red-Tail in the spring molt in new feathers. What amazing and majestic hunters they are. I love the Red-Tail Hawks. She’d cruise around the sky and all birds were out of sight. She’d do a few observational circles and move on. “We all have to eat, but please don’t eat the house sparrows from my neighboring bush” I caught myself thinking numerous times. One time mid summer I heard one of these sparrows being carried off by a flying predator. “Oh no” I thought as I spun my patio chair around that evening at dinner. I looked toward the direction of the fatal cry. That hawk must eat also, I understand as I sat staring in the direction.

Tip your head back as the sun begins to settle in for the evening. You’ll see the species taking flight change. It’s neat to watch the night-hawk come out and flutter in what looks like senseless flight to those that may be unaware. Insects abound and all around forming those ‘not-senseless’ flight patterns. Just amazing. A little later you’ll see that wing shape change. Enter the bat. Soon it is so dark I can’t see anymore and I’m still sitting in that chair. I stand up and walk inside for the evening leaving the skies to the nocturnal, flighted, hunters.

It is amazing the avian highway that exists above us if we just take that 10 minutes to tip our head back and point our eyes to the skies. Try it, you’ll be amazed. It really is cool and educational observing all this life and that avian expressway that happens just a few feet to several hundred feet above our heads. It is a whole new world up there and its fascinating to be able to observe it. I know what I want to be if I come back in another life. The tough thing is deciding which species. Enjoy.

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  1. Elizabeth Cirrotti
    November 15, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Lara- as a matter of fact I have thought about this same thing and I know what bird I want to come back as. On a recent trip to the Grand Canyon, I watched ravens sitting in trees on the rim of the canyon and then take off and swoop down into the canyon. I thought I would love to be one of those birds and be able to do that.
    Another great story. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Elizabeth

  2. Katie
    November 15, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    “Avain highway…” I like that. If only we took the time to look up instead of counting the cracks in the sidewalks.
    Love your insights & thanks again for sharing with the world.

    Always,
    Katie

  3. Corrie
    November 18, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Hi, Lara –

    Really enjoyed your post, as usual. Since I got my Goffin, I am becoming more and more bird-enamored as time goes by. And I thought I was a cat person! That could be changing 🙂

    Also, my sister-in-law works for a wildlife rehab center in Portland. I’ve been sending your blog posts to her, she loves ’em.

    Under her care are an African Grey and —- a blue jay and a crow! I’m so jealous -kind of. What a huge responsibility to keep a jay and a crow happy. But what fun, too! Anyway, they are both non-releasable, so she gets to live her life with these amazing creatures (plus three little dogs, a cat, her disabled son, her husband, and any rehab possums, skunks, ‘coons, owls, etc. that she’s nurturing).

    Needless to say, I think I’ll be visiting her next year for sure, just to bask in critter menagerie and meet that crow.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • November 18, 2010 at 3:59 pm

      Make sure you get photos Corrie. Our program blue jay has become a favorite of many. Your sister is working with 3 very smart birds, the grey, the crow, and the blue jay.

  4. December 12, 2010 at 1:03 am

    Lara,

    I’ll come back as one of the greatest athletes in the world, a racing homer!! I enjoyed your thoughts, these are things I too think of as I sit watching the skies for my homers to return. The passing bald eagle is always a joy to see, sometimes so high they are just dots in the sky, other times low enough that you think you can reach up and touch them. I look forward to your next post!!

    Merry Christmas,

    Ron

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