Opinion Columns & Blogs

Our aging birdbrains

I have this thing about birds — they are way fun to watch. And, after much careful observation, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not alone. In fact, after a detailed scientific study, which involved me talking to my friends, I now understand why “Sudden-Onset Interest in Birds” has been recently added to the long list of pre-retirement requirements (if you can say that three times fast you’re way too young to retire).

I’m sure it’s written in the geezer bylaws that, by the time you turn 65, you must own or share as community property up to, but not limited to, three kitschy birdhouses and/or five snazzy, colorful feeders. Preferably all of the aforementioned. I’m not sure what it is about old people and their birds, but I’m definitely afflicted.

I live on what used to be known as “rural property” in the South County, and there are numerous varieties of the avian type available for my viewing pleasure. The largest number are what I like to call the vast, nearly silent majority. You know — all of those cute, but rather unremarkable guys that are basically gray or brown, eat a lot, flit around hither and yon, take a bath once in a while, and don’t say too much (This is my niche in human form).

With all due respect to that group, I wonder why the other parts of the country get all of the splashy, exotic birds.

I for one, would like to see a little more pizzazz atop my feeder.

While I do keep an eye on the silent majority, a good portion of my time is spent pondering hummingbirds. They are industrious little fellows, but I’m not sure I’d like to sit down and have a beer with one. Not that I have anything against the little buggers, but you’ve got to admit, they’re pretty intense. I have a deck on which I like to spend time relaxing, avoiding any kind of meaningful work, and there are several hummingbirds that hang out with me.

Well, perhaps that’s overstating it. The hummingbirds take every available opportunity to point out that I am being slothful and, on top of that, have encroached on their territory. They fly around the yard in a frenzy just to let me know they’re around. As if I hadn’t noticed.

When that doesn’t encourage me to move on, they regroup and fly at what I am sure is close to the speed of light, aiming straight at my head, only to swerve away at the last second. They miss me by millimeters but do succeed in raising my blood pressure into the danger zone.

I have a Mexican sage in my yard that the hummers covet. It’s obviously the Dom Perignon of flower nectar. One overly aggressive little twerp keeps constant vigil, and if another bird gets anywhere near the plant, it goes into attack mode to protect its blooms.

Certainly, it’s a hummingbird with social issues who was never taught to share. Obviously, he never went to preschool. Like it or not, this hummer is the bad boy of the bird world, and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover, under those petite feathers, a tattoo across his back that reads, “OGB” (Original Gangsta Bird).

I’m nothing if not vigilant when the hummingbirds are in the neighborhood, but I must say it’s not the only time I get nervous. When multiple turkey buzzards begin to circle just overhead, I always wonder if they know something I don’t. I begin to think maybe I ought to get my affairs in order.

Then there are the quail — now those are my kind of birds. You’ve got to love them. They hang out in groups, someone’s constantly on watch, and it always looks as if they’re on the way to a party. They travel in coveys too. That just sounds cool. Quail probably have better parties than hummingbirds. I imagine it’s hard to relax at a hummingbird social event.

My former boss, who looked about 22, used to comment with a tone of exasperation that his retired father would not shut up about all the quail that appeared on his lawn every evening. Evidently his father was enamored with the birds and their endearing personalities. The old man would go into great detail about quail trivia and the personal habits of individual birds, and my boss would do the “under-forty-OMG-eye-roll,” and try to change the subject. I listened to this for a few days and when I found myself thinking, “I wonder if quail have best friends,” I knew it was time to retire.

I believe that I may invite my former boss’s father over the next time I sit out on my deck. I’m sure he’d be delighted to help keep track of the quail and run hummingbird interference for me. I bet he’ll even bring the beer.

Suzanne Davis is happily retired and living in the South County with her husband and their three dogs.