Your imagination may be virtually limitless, but the sky’s the limit for the birds that gracefully glide through the open air. In my story, “Polly’s Portmanteaus,” Polly is a feisty blue-and-gold macaw with a mind of her own. In “Monique’s Melody,” Coral recalls how she was comforted by the song sparrow who regularly sang outside her little room. And she shares the story of how a childhood fascination with the Carolina wren in her native North Carolina inspired her years later. Let’s get acquainted with some of these beautiful and inspirational birds.
Polly is the star of the show as she guest lectures to a high school class in “Polly’s Portmanteaus.” Paige Pritchard is the quirky English teacher who has adopted Polly, and is the marvelous macaw’s number one fan. Paige provides excellent care for Polly, including a diet rich in fruit, nuts, seeds, and other goodies. With the loving care provided by Paige, Polly is likely to live about twice as long in captivity—about sixty to seventy years—as do her relatives in the wild. Her ancestors hailed from South America, where macaws still are widespread in the forests and woodlands. The blue-and-gold (or yellow) macaw is listed by BirdLife International as a species of “least concern” with a current wild population between one and two hundred thousand. This strikingly beautiful bird sports mostly blue top parts and deep-yellow underparts with various shades of green on top of its head. It typically weighs between two and three pounds and is approximately two and a half feet in length. In the wild, the macaw mates for life and nests in palm trees. The female lays two or three eggs, and sits on the nest for about four weeks until they are ready to hatch. Once the chicks hatch, only the dominant offspring, who grabs the food for itself, will manage to survive. This bird will go on to enjoy producing loud vocalizations (particularly flock calls), and will delight in its food, which it will chew thoroughly with its strong beak. In my story, Polly provides the supercilious principal with a close-up view of her tough, black beak, sending Mrs. Dougherty racing out of the classroom on shaky legs.
We find some rather different sorts of birds in my story, “Monique’s Melody.” Coral has found comfort in the vocalizations of the song sparrow she encounters in Beverly Hills, and inspiration in the behavior of the Carolina wren she recalls from her North Carolina childhood. Both of these birds are small and love to sing; when Coral hears the song sparrow’s song each morning, she is reminded of the Carolina wren she loved to watch as a girl on her grandmother’s farm. In my story, Coral recounts that her employer’s daughter, Zoe (a budding ornithologist) was able to identify the song sparrow. Zoe would have heard the bird’s song, and she would have noticed its brown upper, the dark streaks on its back, and the dark streaking with a dark brown spot in the middle of its breast. She would have seen the bird’s gray face, with a brown streak running through each eye. She would have observed that this one-ounce bird was only about five inches long. And Zoe would not have been surprised that this bird was living in a tree in her suburban backyard: The North American song sparrow thrives in human-dominated areas like suburbs, as well as in brush land and marshes.
Though the song sparrow is happy to range across most of North America, the Carolina wren, a relatively sedentary bird, prefers to stay closer to its home in the eastern half of the United States. It is the official bird of the state of South Carolina; in my story, Coral’s childhood neck of the woods borders South Carolina. Both male and female Carolina wrens are staunch defenders of their territory and nests. In my story, Coral decides to leave Melody with “the music lady” when she is two weeks old, taking her cue from the Carolina wren who sent her offspring flying away when they were two weeks old.
The Carolina wren and song sparrow are both gifted singers in the wild. The male Carolina wren takes center stage with his song, in a bid to keep the female’s attention and to defend his territory. His repertoire typically consists of about thirty-two different song patterns, which he learned in the first three months of his life. He has a great ability to mimic the songs of nearby birds and even other species; in Pennsylvania, this talent has led to the bird’s sobriquet of “mocking wren.”
For the song sparrow, singing consists of repeated notes and trills, which are clear and precise. A song sparrow can have as many as twenty different tunes in its repertoire, with up to a thousand improvised variations. These clever birds can distinguish neighbors from strangers according to their songs. Females prefer their mate’s songs to those of other birds, and they prefer the songs of their neighbors to those of strangers. The male employs a complex song to attract females and to declare ownership of his territory. Enthusiasts have recognized one of the songs of these birds as strikingly similar to the opening four notes of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5!
So next time you’re out and about, listen carefully to that birdsong as you observe our fabulous flying friends. It may open your appreciation of life to majestic new vistas in sight and sound.
- Wikipedia: “Blue-and-yellow macaw”
- Wikipedia: “Carolina wren”
- Wikipedia: “Song sparrow”
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