Sunday, June 15, 2008

Things have been weird. On Thursday morning a strange bird came and knocked on the door. For real. I saw it on the patio through a gap in the curtains. It's body was sooty and dark. At first I thought it was a crow. Then I saw the black webbed feet and the sharp curved beak. I thought then that it was a cormorant -- a juvenile. Often the juveniles look dark gray. Adult cormorants have glossy and dark olive colored feathers. This bird wasn't glossy, and seemed somewhat disheveled. I wondered what it was doing on our patio, which is behind a natural wall of plants and under an eave and about a mile from the beach. It tapped at the glass door. Birds, even when they flock to our feeder, never get so close. I watched it for a few moments. At last, it settled on the welcome mat and faced the glass.

I opened the door. At that point, the bird hopped clumsily away. It didn't fly. It was weak. I knew to rescue it. I brought it to the bird center. J studied the bird and murmured, "I don't know what that is." She went to fetch her book. When she returned, she identified it as a parasitic jaeger . "An evil bird" she said. All I saw was a weak and frightened bird. The book described the bird as "the pirate of the seas" whose shadow "cleaves across the tundra, striking fear in the hearts of all who glimpse it." It is described as a swift and agile flier.

Later that day, I googled bird omens. As someone interested in animals and divination, I was especially intent on learning what it means when a bird knocks on your door. What I learned from the internet made me worried. Over and over again, accounts that the arrival of a bird means death. Death death death. I thought of how it felt when I held the bird -- how light and fragile it was. How wild. It wasn't death that it made me think of, but vulnerability. Everything alive is vulnerable.

Many birds are clepto-parasites. Many animals. Including people.

I think the description of the bird as "evil" is unfair. Perhaps it is a bird that cannot bear to kill, but knows that it must consume flesh to survive. Nonetheless, I am not convinced the bird is a skua. I think it is perhaps a type of shearwater. In my memory, it looks a lot like this:


Even though the bird was weak, it managed to tear several shallow cuts on the skin of my hands. They are in a neat little row, and they remind me more of claw marks than beak marks.

Yesterday, my adventures with birds continued at haskell's beach where there were reports of weak and injured cormorants. On our way down to the beach, we crossed paths with a falconer. He was driving a little golf cart and three birds -- an owl and two falcons -- perched on bars where there is usually a back seat. The nearby Baccarra resort uses owls and falcons to chase seagulls away from the expensive suites. The falcons wore little masks that covered their eyes. The owl was gorgeous and bored. "He's happy as long as he gets fat," the falconer explained. He wore long leather gloves.

Down the rocky beach, under the old pier formerly used by the veneco oil corporation, six young cormorants were huddled against the rusting barriers. Offshore, there are a few large platforms that serve as cormorant colonies. Because of the waves and the strange angles of the structure, it seemed as though it might be impossible to corral the birds. K and I attempted to corner one of the birds, and as I lunged forward to block it from entering the surf, my head hit one of the metal bars extending from the platform. I was suddenly flat on my back, in the sand and kelp. I was seeing stars. I brought my self up, the earth undulating beneath me. I was up in time to see K get the cormorant into a box.

Tomorrow I will go and see the bird who knocked on my door. Perhaps s/he will be ready to be released. I know that there is more to this story, but this is all I can tell for now.

2 comments:

Jessica Smith said...

in southern mythology, a bird has to actually come inside of its own accord to be a harbinger of certain, close-range death. maybe the fact that yours knocked and turned away was just a reminder of death, of mortality and fragility, like you say.

Elka and Peter said...

I've also always heard that a bird has to come inside. Remind me at the wedding to tell you about the bird in our house in December.

is this real?