Sep 10 2013

An astonishment


I am an astonishment to wrens.

Here’s how I found out.

Our bird-feeder is a bit broken. The side-spring is missing on one side.

That’s the bit that’s supposed to keep the perch lifted when light visitors, like birds, sit and dine, but let the perch drop when heavier critters (squirrels) sit on it.  The dropped perch makes a shutter come down on the seed-access windows.  So we don’t waste seed on squirrels.  Because they will eat it all.  Because they are squirrels.

But with the spring missing, the perch is in drop-position all the time, and nobody gets to eat.

We generally solve this by jamming a stick in the shutter, keeping it open all the time.  Because, hey, we just bought that feeder a few months ago, and we can’t be buying feeders all the time!

So, everybody eats, and we spend extra money on seed… I’m sure there’s a win/win in there for someone.  Probably the squirrels.

Every now and then a squirrel notices the stick, thinks, Hey — what the heck is this thing?, and yanks it out.

And nobody eats, again.

They’re smart enough to come and peer in the kitchen window when the feeder is empty, and smart enough to try to chew off the bungee cord that holds the seed-storage bin closed, but not smart enough to leave the stick in place.  Apparently.

So I have to replace the stick every now and again.

And recently, one time when I was doing that, I noticed this bopping in the bushes around me.

(That’s a technical term, bopping.  It’s the motion of a hidden bird: a quick, small bounce of leaves on a branch where a bird has arrived, or from which it has departed. It’s like a bob, but smaller, tighter and quicker.)

I grew perfectly still, of course, because the bopping was nearby, and getting nearer, and I love to see the birds close up, if I can.   Sometimes they come quite near when I stand by the feeder.  They’re hungry.

Usually it’s a house-sparrow coming as close as he dares, waiting for me to leave; or a chickadee, taking advantage of the fact that all the bigger bully birds are terrified of the horrible human and will stay away until I’m gone, allowing her to merrily flick in and out, right past my nose, being so fast-fast-fast that nothing as big and slow as some clumsy human could possibly present any danger to her.

So, I watched the progressive bopping, closer and closer, a goofy anticipatory grin already on my face, and when the bopper reached the edge of the brush, and came into view —

Not a sparrow, not a chickadee not even a tufted titmouse — a wren.

I couldn’t recall when I last saw a wren in this neighborhood.   I’m not sure I ever had previously at all.  But there he was, first time.  I was amazed.

And so, apparently, was he.

He looked at me, stunned.   We regarded each other, I might say with equal surprise, but not so — his surprise was much greater than mine.

Birds don’t have a whole lot of facial expression.   It’s all in the body language, really.  He stared at me; then hunkered down; then lifted up, side-eyed me first from the left, then the right.

He tilted this way and that, trying to pin down the oddness of me, and he just couldn’t wrap his brain around it.

I was amazing, colossal, incomprehensible!   What wonders does this world hold?  Can it possibly be real?

Just to be sure, let’s get a closer look.

And I stood still, as a proper birder will, not even moving my head, not even my eyes, as he closed in on me.  Bop by bop, each time repeating that scrutiny, that study from every angle, and still disbelieving, he came even closer.  And closer.

At last he was less than an arm’s length away from me, to my right, slightly above me, and I finally turned my eyes and then my head and we regarded each other.

He just could not figure me out.  And I could not believe my luck.

I said, “Well… hello there.”

He did not startle at my voice, but he studied me again, literally from head to foot and back to head, needing to shift his entire body to take in the sheer scope of me.  At last, with a certain hesitancy, as if half-unwillng to leave behind this prodigy of the natural world — he proceeded to bop away.  Bop by bop.

And he was gone.   And all I could think was:  Damn, I wish I’d had a camera; because I’ll never get a chance like that again.

The next day, as I was having lunch on the porch, I heard a feathery flut — and he was sitting on the edge of the table, next to my left elbow.

I didn’t move — but I could see from the corner of my eye that he was studying me again.

Apparently my elbow wasn’t the most useful prospect, so — flit, flut — he perched on my can of diet Coke.

And we looked at each other.  He shifted a bit, his toes making little tik-tik-tik noises on the aluminum of the can.

Eventually I said, “… is there something I can do for you?”

He was less astonished, I thought, but still curious.  He side-eyed me again, left, right, tik-tik-tik…

Then: flut — gone.

At which point I rembered two things:

The wren is the King of the Birds.  Did you know that?

And: one of my back-burner stories, one of the really interesting ideas I have for things I want to write, but which have to wait for a while, because what writing time I have available right now has to go to the Steerswoman series — one of those stories — concerns, to a large extent, a wren.

I saw him once more, days later, up above me while I was writing on my stone bench in my little hideaway in the bushes.  I noticed the bopping, and we spied each other.

“Good morning Your Majesty,” I said.

He spared me a moment’s consideration; then bopped away and was gone.