In my previous blog I mentioned reading Simon Barnes’ How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher. I’ve achieved that status as a very bad birdwatcher in fact. At least though, this week I was able to tell a family member that the small birds at our feeder are goldfinches, house sparrows, and house wrens. I’ve made several visits to open space along the Colorado Front Range to watch Canada geese and glimpse a kingfisher. Lots of robins (turns out they are fierce defenders of territory) and what Barnes calls LBJs–little brown jobs. Of course, from a distance the birds I see are little black blobs that line up on traffic light poles. I do note that they almost always all face the same way. That must mean something.
Why, though, would a poet think about birds? Well, when I’m noticing birds, I’m paying attention, and that’s an important skill for any writer to foster. I keep a tiny diary, nothing technical, nothing that will ever record sighting some rare bird, but daily notes keep me on the lookout. In fact, I need right now to go write down the four crows I saw yesterday. (Oops, I already had. Good girl.) I like the commoners like crows, the gulls, doves, pigeons, hawks. I can tell the difference between ring-neck doves and mourning doves, the former apparently an interloper in our region. Well, immigrant birds, as long as you’re here, you may as well stay.
The other benefit to bad birdwatching is metaphor. Birds surround us and we attach meaning to them. Hearing an owl is a death warning, or the first robin is a sure sign of spring. Actually, the owl doesn’t care whether we human beings live or die, and the first robin one sees is probably not the first. As I became more aware of birds, I realized that I’ve been writing them into my poems for a long time. They offer me mystery, awareness of non-human nature, of beauty and otherness. If creativity is largely about making connections, bird watching promotes creativity, and I’m all for that.