Advice To A Baby Bird

Food is your first priority,
but there’s danger from above and below.
Remember, each meal could be your last
and the rain that quenches your thirst
will just as easily drown you.

Watch for shadows, but don’t jump at them
lest you waste your hard-won energy
on a Jay instead of a raptor.

Be wary of the cowbird’s eggs
which borrow precious space,
at the expense of your brood.
Be mindful of starlings,
jealous souls with murderous intent.
They’ll kill your young
to make room for their own.

Wind is as deadly to newborn chicks
as stray cats and lawnmowers.

Don’t take time for granted.
You may have a year or three or five,
but remember we are birds,
born to die too soon,
so fly often and with joy.

If you learn the language of the sky
you may survive to perch
on the highest branch of the tallest pine
and rub your beak against
the mountain’s cold spine
only then will you understand
that your life is not small or fleeting,
but as endless as the web
that holds the world together.

A Soft Lamenting

I hear the cardinals before I see them, loitering in wineberry vines coated white from the evening storm. I wonder if they’re speaking to me, their lilting voices muted by the fresh snow. I count three, moving through my yard like bright fire.

The sky lightens as I push piles of snow from the platform feeder and replenish the seed. When I walk away, the birds come. Their chatter ripples through the trees, a gentle wave.

I’ll name them all before I go inside, letting them know I see them, telling them to take the proffered food.

Dark eyed juncos (my little penguins), house finches, mourning doves, blue jays, one hairy woodpecker and one downy, white-throated sparrows with their sweet, plaintive song, the Carolina wren who loves the suet, a passing flock of red-winged blackbirds (easily startled), black-capped chickadees (small and bold).

Yesterday, a sharp-shinned hawk perched outside my window, its fierce eyes trained on the sparrows. As I watched, it let out a lonely, piercing cry that I’m sure was meant for me.


I only want to watch the birds
as they flock to the feeders,
a wave of feathers and sleek bodies
vying for a spot.

At noon the finches fill up my porch
with possibility–
dropping down like strange leaves
breathing in the cold air,
living motion.

As winter beats against them,
they flock–
keeping warm with expanded feathers
shaking the dew from their backs
glowing with the challenge of survival.

The birds are impervious to tragedy
but they must know loss,
they must–
On the glittering snow
the mourning doves cluster
to dig for the seed that falls
and their round bodies
melt the surface of my frozen yard.

A Long Time Ago

I dreamed of hummingbirds
and a field of flowers
painting the yard behind my house
Purple and pink and white
But when I woke, the ground still clung to winter,
and there were no hummingbirds
drifting through naked branches.

If I close my eyes I can see their wings,
a blur of busy motion, lost between worlds,
hovering on threads of time and space
carrying souls to the other place.

Out of mist and early morning light
when sunrise is a heartbeat away,
when night fades like the end of sleep,
I might see them
suspended above the trumpet vine
and sweet honeysuckle.


Birds In Winter


I only want to watch the birds
as they flock to the feeders:
finches, sparrows, chickadees…
dropping down like strange leaves,
stealing themselves against the chill,
keeping warm with puffed feathers,
shaking the snow from their backs,
defiant with the challenge of survival.

They seem impervious to tragedy
but they must know loss.
They must.

I see it in the way the mourning doves cluster,
beneath the hoppers, cooing, wary
I scattered the seed for them
so I can watch their round bodies
melt the surface of my frozen yard.