by Tom Lally
I have been passionate about birds all of my life. Since I was a little kid, if it had wings and feathers, I was fascinated by it. Consequently, I have always tried to share this passion with those around me.
Recently, the family and I were enjoying a very pleasant fall evening on some friends’ rooftop patio. While we were sitting there, a young Cooper’s Hawk landed on the building next door. My friends commented on how they have never seen anything like that here. Cooper’s Hawks, a bird of prey, slightly larger than a crow, are relatively common, even in a large city such as Chicago. They have learned to take advantage of backyard feeding stations, where they can find an endless supply of medium sized birds, such as Mourning Doves, pigeons, robins, and the like to feed on.
I explained to my friends that there are all sorts of birds that literally surround us, going about their lives in the big city. Most people are just not that aware of them. People hurry about, engaged in the daily activities that comprise their lives, oblivious to the constant avian drama going on around them.
After a few minutes, the Cooper’s Hawk headed off to find dinner. From our roof-top vantage point, we could locate where the hawk was in the neighborhood by spotting the panicked flocks of starlings and pigeons as they wheeled around the sky in tight flocks, in an attempt to avoid their pursuer. High drama.
Over dinner, I told our hosts a story about a trip my wife and I took to southwest Florida. This was back when my wife and I had been dating for a relatively short time. Her parents have a condo in Ft. Myers, and suggested we come down and visit. I was particularly excited by the fact that their condo was a short drive to a well known birding spot, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Ding Darling is one of those birding meccas that every birder must visit. The whole family thought that this would be a fun day trip.
When my wife and I arrived in Ft. Myers, my in-laws told me that they had visited Ding Darling the day before, and that there were no birds there to be seen. I suggested that we still take a ride to check it out anyways. Before we even pulled into the parking lot, I was pointing out the vast variety of birds in the area. Osprey, eagles, pelicans, and many other southwest Florida favorites. As we drove along the refuge road, I continued to point out even more birds, including the many varieties of Herons, Egrets and other water birds that call the refuge home. I introduced them to the Roseate Spoonbill, a beautiful pink wading bird, with a ridiculous spatula-like bill, that it swings through the water to capture its aquatic prey. My future mother-in-law insisted that none of these birds were here the day before, but I know the truth. The truth is, those birds were there.
Sometimes people just need someone to help them open their eyes to the world around them.Tom Lally is a lifelong resident of Chicago and a lover of all things outdoors.