What would it be like, a world without birds? Rachel Carson said it would be A Silent Spring. We are losing birds at an alarming rate. Since the 1970s, 2.9 billion birds have been lost in North America alone, or 29 percent of the total population. I’m afraid I’ve ignored them most of my life, briefly noticing their songs as background noise. But since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been hearing the music. Back in the spring of 2020, I went to the senior shopping hours at the supermarket, before 7 a.m., and when I got home, sat on my car’s rear bumper and enjoyed my coffee while listening to the lovely symphony in the trees. Often, I was quiet enough to see them. The purposeful fat robin on the grass. The noisy cardinal, bright as his red coat. The squawking blue jay and the tiny finches like the chorus of Birdie Lane. Spelled like the golf term, my street name reminds me, not a golfer, of my little visitors.
That uncertain spring, I signed up for the Cornell FeederWatch program. On a downloaded data sheet, I recorded the numbers of birds by species I spotted in a given two-day period, then reported the figures online. Monday and Tuesday mornings were my chosen days. I set up at the kitchen table with my data sheet, facing three hanging sunflower seed containers plus a suet feeder. One morning, my feeder was visited by a Baltimore oriole, but more commonly, house finches, juncos, titmice and sparrows stopped by.
I’d love to see a nightingale, the national animal of Ukraine, as I wonder if there is birdsong to be heard there, amid the exploding bombs.
As the pandemic wanes, (thank God) I feel the urge to go out and DO things. But I also cherish solitude, the time to watch the birds. And to wonder about the nightingales of Ukraine. In Kristin Hannah’s novel, the nightingale is the code name for a character who rescues downed pilots during another war. If birds could save us, I think they would be nightingales.