A starling gets its 15 minutes of fame. Co-starring: a female cardinal as Florence Nightingale.
- The sad decline of the swirling starling | Stephen Moss (guardian.co.uk)
A starling gets its 15 minutes of fame. Co-starring: a female cardinal as Florence Nightingale.
|HE rises and begins to round,|
|He drops the silver chain of sound|
|Of many links without a break,|
|In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,|
|All intervolv’d and spreading wide,||5|
|Like water-dimples down a tide|
|Where ripple ripple overcurls|
|And eddy into eddy whirls;|
|A press of hurried notes that run|
|So fleet they scarce are more than one,||10|
|Yet changingly the trills repeat|
|And linger ringing while they fleet,|
|Sweet to the quick o’ the ear, and dear|
|To her beyond the handmaid ear,|
|Who sits beside our inner springs,||15|
|Too often dry for this he brings,|
|Which seems the very jet of earth|
|At sight of sun, her music’s mirth,|
|As up he wings the spiral stair,|
|A song of light, and pierces air||20|
|With fountain ardor, fountain play,|
|To reach the shining tops of day,|
|And drink in everything discern’d|
|An ecstasy to music turn’d,|
|Impell’d by what his happy bill||25|
|Disperses; drinking, showering still,|
|Unthinking save that he may give|
|His voice the outlet, there to live|
|Renew’d in endless notes of glee,|
|So thirsty of his voice is he,||30|
|For all to hear and all to know|
|That he is joy, awake, aglow,|
|The tumult of the heart to hear|
|Through pureness filter’d crystal-clear,|
|And know the pleasure sprinkled bright||35|
|By simple singing of delight,|
|Shrill, irreflective, unrestrain’d,|
|Rapt, ringing, on the jet sustain’d|
|Without a break, without a fall,|
|Sweet-silvery, sheer lyrical,||40|
|Perennial, quavering up the chord|
|Like myriad dews of sunny sward|
|That trembling into fullness shine,|
|And sparkle dropping argentine;|
|Such wooing as the ear receives||45|
|From zephyr caught in choric leaves|
|Of aspens when their chattering net|
|Is flush’d to white with shivers wet;|
|And such the water-spirit’s chime|
|On mountain heights in morning’s prime,||50|
|Too freshly sweet to seem excess,|
|Too animate to need a stress;|
|But wider over many heads|
|The starry voice ascending spreads,|
|Awakening, as it waxes thin,||55|
|The best in us to him akin;|
|And every face to watch him rais’d,|
|Puts on the light of children prais’d,|
|So rich our human pleasure ripes|
|When sweetness on sincereness pipes,||60|
|Though nought be promis’d from the seas,|
|But only a soft-ruffling breeze|
|Sweep glittering on a still content,|
|Serenity in ravishment.|
|For singing till his heaven fills,||65|
|’T is love of earth that he instills,|
|And ever winging up and up,|
|Our valley is his golden cup,|
|And he the wine which overflows|
|To lift us with him as he goes:||70|
|The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine|
|He is, the hills, the human line,|
|The meadows green, the fallows brown,|
|The dreams of labor in the town;|
|He sings the sap, the quicken’d veins;||75|
|The wedding song of sun and rains|
|He is, the dance of children, thanks|
|Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks,|
|And eye of violets while they breathe;|
|All these the circling song will wreathe,||80|
|And you shall hear the herb and tree,|
|The better heart of men shall see,|
|Shall feel celestially, as long|
|As you crave nothing save the song.|
|Was never voice of ours could say||85|
|Our inmost in the sweetest way,|
|Like yonder voice aloft, and link|
|All hearers in the song they drink:|
|Our wisdom speaks from failing blood,|
|Our passion is too full in flood,||90|
|We want the key of his wild note|
|Of truthful in a tuneful throat,|
|The song seraphically free|
|Of taint of personality,|
|So pure that it salutes the suns||95|
|The voice of one for millions,|
|In whom the millions rejoice|
|For giving their one spirit voice.|
|Yet men have we, whom we revere,|
|Now names, and men still housing here,||100|
|Whose lives, by many a battle-dint|
|Defaced, and grinding wheels on flint,|
|Yield substance, though they sing not, sweet|
|For song our highest heaven to greet:|
|Whom heavenly singing gives us new,||105|
|Enspheres them brilliant in our blue,|
|From firmest base to farthest leap,|
|Because their love of Earth is deep,|
|And they are warriors in accord|
|With life to serve and pass reward,||110|
|So touching purest and so heard|
|In the brain’s reflex of yon bird;|
|Wherefore their soul in me, or mine,|
|Through self-forgetfulness divine,|
|In them, that song aloft maintains,||115|
|To fill the sky and thrill the plains|
|With showerings drawn from human stores,|
|As he to silence nearer soars,|
|Extends the world at wings and dome,|
|More spacious making more our home,||120|
|Till lost on his aërial rings|
|In light, and then the fancy sings.|
My podmate at work expresses pure disdain for the grackle, the starling and, most vociferously, the parasitic cowbird, lumping them all into a generic “filthy blackbird” category. I wouldn’t call him bigoted. Just unenlightened.
I feel compelled to speak up for a class of birds widely scorned just because they fill a niche of avariciousness, through no fault of their own. Like the harsh misnomer for “black” humans, avian color is relative. These birds aren’t black; they are iridescent and richly hued.
Technically, a European starling is not even in the blackbird family — it’s like a maligned stepchild, an immigrant, no less. And, surprisingly, such prized specimens as orioles, meadowlarks and bobolinks are blackbirds. Close cousins, anyway. Don’t even talk to me about crows; they’re members of the Corvidae family — think Mob rule.
As ubiquitous as blackish birds are, so too are the musical tributes to them: The Beatles’ “Blackbird” (notably off The White Album) has been covered untold times. The jazz standard “Bye Bye Blackbird” is about as familiar as the patter of “Sing a Song of Sixpence”:
Sing a song of sixpence, A pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds, Baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, The birds began to sing; Wasn’t that a dainty dish, To set before the king?
Familiarity sure breeds contempt — shame on us for proposing to make pies of these winged wonders. I want nothing to do with the “Bye-bye, blackbird” mantra.
I recall the ominous serial outbreaks of red-winged blackbirds falling from the sky in Arkansas ringing in both 2011 and 2012 — eventually blamed on man’s fireworks fetish — and those shocking reports that the USDA is behind mysterious bird die-offs. Who are the villains here, Master Hitchcock? We all know you glued the crows’ feet to the roof of the schoolhouse to make them more menacing.
The only horror here is an act of man … that authorities would ever endorse shooting down innocent birds, as if the biosphere were our personal arcade. One Kentucky town opted for non-fatal cannon shoots as a more humane solution to controlling its avian explosion. “Humane.” Wonder how “human” came to occupy that word. I propose a new term: “Aviane.”
OK, I get the idea of too much of a good thing, but who can watch a murmuration and not be awestruck?
What I love about blackbirds, and birds in general: They never disappoint.
Consistent in its behavior, a cowbird predictably will poach another nest by sneaking in her oddball eggs, perhaps freeing her from the perceived drudgery and responsibility of parenthood — much like Mayzie in Horton Hears a Who. Talk about a wild chick.
But we mustn’t judge. They’re just being cowbirds, the only way they know to be and what has proven successful for the species’ survival. Think of them as the 1%, hiring cheap labor as nannies. On second thought, that could breed more contempt.
Think of them, instead, as an energy-saving alarm clock. I thrill waking to the shrill, steady peals and squeals of grackles, like gleeful children grabbing the squeaky swings in our backyard playground.
Birds, after all, help stem humanity’s loneliness. Even in tight times, when I can’t afford to refill the premium seed that has made my yard a five-starling oasis, “my birdies” rouse me each blessed morning in cheerful chitchat, a chorus of hope, like the Whos of Whoville who, even without presents, know you can’t keep Christmas from coming, nor the dawn from breaking.
Turns out, the most ancient birds looked a lot like grackles — the microraptor, a dinosaur bird with iridescent plumage and those same beady yellow eyes.
So have some respect for your elder species. Jesus, by the way, was also black. Black is the beginning and the end of the universe. Black is the color of my true love’s hair. Black is beautiful.
Here’s my humble tribute to these colorful black birds — especially the grackles — as viewed in my yard and that of my mother-in-law in Kentucky:
Today’s ABCs of journalism require a Ph.D. in SEO: the science of applying tags or keywords onto digitally delivered stories so that readers get their Googly eyes on them.
I’ve been polishing my skills for a few years now, but still marvel at the algorithmic mysteries.
Here is an assortment of the bizarre search phrases people have used to stumble upon my blog the past few days.
Did I say stumbling? Trippin’.
Those last two are about the same.
(I am not making this up. I live only to teach people how to spell “tongue.” Couldn’t quite replicate the hits; ‘course now that I’ve listed them, I should get a lot more readers.)
A rite of spring played out in my front yard last week: robin kama sutra. At first I thought these two were fighting. Then it continued, ad nauseum. Now I get where “round robin” comes from. And baby robins, of course.
Oh, the red, red robin goes bob-bob-bobbin’ … (needle scriiiiiiatch). No. Rockin’ robins don’t dig rock ‘n’ roll. Their dish is ballet.
UPDATE: Turns out these two WERE fighting. An ornithological expert has since contacted me to set me straight on the territorial behaviors of male robins. Sigh.
A popular — rather, a prolific — sign at the Reason Rally read: “God Hates Bags.”
Upon arriving at the National Mall, we overheard someone explaining that sign, meekly saying they couldn’t get away with writing the word that rhymes with “bags,” blah, blah, blah.
Well, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, because I wasn’t sure where they were coming from or who was mocking whom. We are so trained to try to put people with signs in boxes before deciding what to think.
One of the speakers saved me (the trouble), giving it the right context: “I see there’s a typo on your sign. Should say: ‘God Hates Facts.’ ”
(And I have removed the entertainment I’d posted here previously, because it seems a certain madcap genius is also litigious. Sorry, Tim Minchin fans. )
The Drudge Report straight-out snubs it, leading instead with: “Dick Cheney Gets New Heart” (talk about a resurrection). Then there’s The Huffington Post’s straight-up “Atheists to Gather for ‘Reason Rally’ on National Mall”; someone there did their search-engine-optimization homework, but it’s been more than 22 hours since anyone updated it.
This blog probably won’t appear in your search results. Yet this blogger was there, in proud attendance with my hippie husband on a gloomy, rain-gummed day … and not entirely for rational reasons.
Sure, we were enthused about the lineup of speakers, including the original and inimitable zoologist Richard Dawkins. My 1980s copy of “The Selfish Gene” remains the most dog-eared title in my collection or, as one speaker put it, “We’ve read them so often the pages stick together.” Oo-er … Another big draw: Tim Minchin, the madcap-genius songwriter who seems an irreverent George Carlin-esque comic for this generation.
What made our selfish genes go all gooey and emotional was seeing our daughter — who is a founding president of a Secular Student Alliance chapter on her Northwestern University campus and who’d traveled all night by bus to be there with a cadre of friends — stand up for something she believes in: non-belief; rational thought; self-actualization; herself.
Could we find her amid 20,000 people? Even in a sea of like-minded folks of every stripe and rainbow, she stood out.
I confess I mostly videotaped Tim Minchin (footage to be posted separately), and didn’t properly “cover” the event. But as a member of the Mainstream Media, I was drawn to the fringes, those areas of the Mall where not everyone was so like-minded.
Despite its Tower of Babel feel, the discourse was refreshingly civil. Nothin’ evil. What else might one expect from a crowd of open-minded, science-stoked, reason-soaked thinkers?
(Click video link, at top — where you see the Christ banner — for a few video clips, including exchanges between the godless and the God-fearing counter-protesters who violated the rules and left their designated area to witness.)
Don’t let those other publications tell you it was all militancy or mockery on display. As with any rally, slogans were in fashion, stark differences delineated, some offense intended, but most done here with cleverness and humor. What stuck with me: Every speaker spoke of love for his fellow man and the planet, of morality, of doing good for goodness’ sake, of truly being a friend to the friendless.
Exiled Muslim-born Taslima Nasrin, who has fatwas on her head for speaking out for women’s rights and today is without a country, can tell you that. She looked out over the crowd of secular humanists and, voice cracking, thanked them for making her feel at home.
No disputin’, Rasputins, that Tweety Bird is a canary. Cock-sure Foghorn Leghorn’s a rooster. And the Road Runner? Sold, even if live-action Greater Roadrunners don’t make any sort of “beep-beep” sound (the male sounds alternately like an owl playing maracas, the female like a yapping monkey); they aren’t remotely blue — well maybe a little on the crown and around the eyes; and any self-respecting wily coyote would snap one up as a dessert in a hot desert minute.
What’s up with that?
The Birdchick blog followed up with her own investigation:
"As a kid, I always thought he was an ivory-billed woodpecker. Okay, the ivory-bill isn’t blue and Woody’s white patches don’t match up, but you can’t argue with Woody’s size, his crest and his light colored bill. When I worked at a wild bird store and we had to listen to bird identification CDs all day, I heard an acorn woodpecker call and it gave the “Ha ha ha HAAA ha” call. I realized that sounded a little familiar. Here’s an example that you can hear over at Xeno Canto."
Pretty remarkable that she was pondering ‘toon taxonomy as a kid, when I had trouble keeping Daffy and Donald straight. Turns out that Sharon’s instincts were on target, as she goes on to credit Chilean birding expert Alvaro Jaramillo with solving the mystery by digging through Looney Tunes cartoon cells to find, in a 1964 episode called “Dumb Like a Fox,” Woody’s own discovery that he is of the species Campephilus principalis, or the ivory-billed woodpecker — almost as storied and elusive as Sasquatch, but with far more documention.
I bring it up because, in today’s Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “March Migration Madness” face-off between the pileated woodpecker and the great blue heron, I wouldn’t want anyone voting for the woodpecker on the basis of preschool propaganda alone. Woody is that rare bird, an amalgamation of our imagination that also most closely resembles the ivory-billed woodpecker.