When it comes to knowing stuff, my brain is for the birds

Me? I’m a bird guy.

I don’t know when or why I became one, but I guess everybody’s got to be some kind of “guy,” and for me it’s always been birds.

My brother-in-law is a beer guy. He can sit next to me at a restaurant and run his finger down the beer list to tell me what each one looks, smells and tastes like—the porters, the stouts, the lagers and the IPAs….

Me? I wouldn’t know Miller Lite from marmalade.

My neighbor Jim is a flower guy. When he walks through my wife’s garden he comments about how well our astilbe are doing, or the phlox, the nasturtiums, the lupines and the helianthus….

Me? I wouldn’t know my asters from a hole in the ground.

There are tree guys who are on a first-name basis with beeches and birches. There are star guys who can pick out Rigel or Arcturus from a stellar lineup of millions. There are car guys who can find a tail-light in the street and tell you make, model and year of the car that dropped it.

I have no excuse for not being a tree guy, or a star guy, or a car guy. After all, most of those things will sit still long enough for you to get a good look at it, to learn everything about it you need to learn, at least to be able to recognize it when you see it.

But I haven’t learned anything much at all about trees, or stars, or cars. Or, for that matter, about flowers, beers, or a hundred other things that some other guy can tell you everything about.

Because everybody’s got to be some kind of guy, and for everything you can name, there’s a guy out there for it.

Me? I’m a bird guy. I can name hundreds of them, by sight, sound, nest or shadowy shape. Send me to Europe to see all the historical sights, and when I return I’ll tell you of the rooks flying around the medieval castle, or the magpies walking across the lawn of Buckingham Palace.

Now, if you ask a car-guy to name his favorite car, he’ll probably go all weak-kneed and say Maserati, or Bugatti, or Lamborghini—names that just make me hungry for pasta. He would consider his life complete if he could ever take a spin in one.

Ask a flower guy to name his favorite flower, and he’ll probably go all misty-eyed over some exotic orchid that blooms once a century on some high Asian mountaintop. He would consider his life complete if he could ever brush his finger across those rare petals.

But if you ask me to name my favorite bird, you may be disappointed. You might think I’d be excited about the majestic eagle or osprey, the flashy oriole or wood duck, the delicate hummingbird or sturdy wood stork.

All are fine birds and a joy to see, but my favorite bird of all is the little house wren — so common, plain and nondescript you might not even notice it. With a range that covers most of the western hemisphere from Canada to the southernmost tip of South America, it is the most common bird in the Americas.

The wren is so common in my yard, you’d think I’d be bored with seeing it. Besides, unlike pheasants, orioles or ducks, with their colorful male dandies, male and female wrens look alike —plain brown. And how boring is that?

But no. I love the wren most of all.

There are so many reasons why wrens are my favorite, not least of which is their lilting song, which has been described as “effervescent” and “rush-and-jumble.” It’s a song the male sings all through the spring, trying to tempt a female to come inspect the house and the nest he has begun there. The females are picky, but once he convinces one to join him, they are devoted work-mates. The male continues to sing all through the summer, maybe just out of pride, but he has other songs as well. I even like his chirring scolding of other birds or chipmunks who might pose a threat to the nest.

But most of all, I love the wrens because they seem to accept me as family. While other birds flash in panic from the fountain or the brick path when I open the slider door, the tiny wrens simply sit and watch me walk past down the stone path through the garden, no more than an arm’s reach away. Sometimes they will flutter past me to land on the ground a footstep away, unconcerned that I might do them harm.

We have several wren houses in our yard, and every year we have at least one pair raising a family in them. They don’t mind nesting at eye-level, and they forage for spiders and grubs on the ground beneath the garden’s lush greenery, not minding that you might be weeding or dead-heading right next to them.

This summer, the wrens in the little birdhouse next to the stone path in have been busy for weeks, and it won’t be long before the babies will be ready to leave the nest. And when the babies do leave the nest, they are gone. You won’t see them hanging around like the lummoxy baby robin oafs who leave the nest only to turn the world into an even larger nest, expecting their parents to serve them still.

But it’s not like that with the baby wrens, who one day soon will stand at the doorway to their house, gather their courage, and fly off. The next day they’ll be gone, living their lives as adults.

Their parents, relieved of their hectic duties, will be around less and less too, and I’ll miss them.

Until next spring, when they return to start a new family and warm my heart once more.

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