The Birds

There are many apocryphal statements circulating through our collective consciousnesses that I have heard and still assume are true, but have either never been in a situation to verify them or simply never bothered checking the Wikipedia page on the topic.

One of those is that the following is a Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”.*

According to Wikipedia (which is my second go-to source for information after I’ve established that my husband doesn’t know said information off the top of his head):

No known user of the English phrase has supplied the purported Chinese language original, and the Chinese language origin of the phrase, if it exists, has not been found, making its authenticity, at least in its present form, very doubtful. One theory is that it may be related to the Chinese proverb, “It’s better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period”


The curse, such as it is, has been around since 1936 and I find myself wondering if the curse element should perhaps be amended to “May you live in interesting times unless you are trying to write a regular blog in which case, by all means, may your life be boring as tree moss”. (My apologies to all those who find tree moss fascinating.)

Which is not to say that my life has been quite that boring, but I would rather not use this blog as a forum to speak about my academic interests, at least not until said interests have become more concretized and less, dare I say it, academic. And I point-blank refuse to be overly whiny, which means I will not be speaking about Passover in Goleta until I can approach it with something resembling composure and distance. (The first days with my family were lovely, however).

So I’m going to talk about the birds.

Growing up in urban New York, one encountered two kinds of birds–pets and pigeons. After moving to suburbia, I learned about third sort: waterfowl that frequented the pond in the park, which consisted of ducks and Canadian geese.** So I definitely don’t have the avid birder’s ability to look at a small flying thing and immediately recognize genus and species, but I am slowly improving my ability to recognize avians on sight.

So here is my incredibly unscientific guide to the winged beasts of Santa Barbara.

  • Hummingbirds: People talk about hummingbirds as being small and lovely and flitting around, but if you only ever see still images of them you miss a crucial feature. Namely, they look like giant bugs flying towards you. They’re moving very fast and they have small, dark bodies and their wings don’t so much blur as look translucent like a bug’s wing and they’re heading straight for flowers and my first thought on seeing them was “[REDACTED], that bug is HUGE!” Then it dawned on me that I was seeing a hummingbird for the first time and they really did just hover in the air like that.
  • Crows: The crows around here are roughly analogous to the pigeons in New York, only much prettier. They’re just everywhere. They eat garbage. They look askance at you when you lift a dumpster lid they are sitting because what you have to do could not possibly be as important as their guard duty and they occasionally hang out on street corners and gossip.
  • Ducks: I was familiar with some Mallardian behavior from my pre-Californian days, but I was unaware that they enjoyed swimming in heated pools and sitting underneath lawn chairs until I saw them doing so through my window the other week. Ducks: they’re just like us.
  • Seagulls: So I lied earlier; I am technically familiar with seagulls as those things that fly overhead on the beaches of Long Island. I did not get to meet them up close and personal until this year and, for those of you wondering what that’s like, go rewatch Finding Nemo. The seagulls are exactly like that. Exactly. They are in competition with the pigeon for the world’s stupidest bird, as evidenced by the fellow I saw in an empty lot today surrounded by a bunch of ducks, looking around as if he (I didn’t get close enough to check, but as English lacks gender neutral pronouns I will use he) was trying to figure out why everyone was so much shorter than he was. They are also loud and raucous and woke me up last week when they decide to have a turf war with the ducks over who owns the pool outside my window (presumably the thought that those of us who pay rent here might own it was dismissed as I don’t remember the last time a human swam in it…this may be related to the ducks moving in). The squawking, quacking and “Mine!”ing ended at about 7:30, at which point I got up to see who won. There were eight smug looking seagulls sitting besides the pool (and one on a lawn chair)  and not a duck in sight. I had been rooting for the ducks.
  • Bluejays, Robins and other such birds: I’d seen these guys once or twice while biking through Central Park and it was always something of an exciting experience. Now, they show up all the time on the bike trails and, after the initial “Man, that’s a blue blue jay” when they come out in full mating colors for the spring, they’ve practically become part of the scenery and occasion no more wonder than the plantlife (which, to be fair, has occasionally caused me to stop in my tracks and think “That is a WEIRD looking cactus”, but my ability to identify plants makes me look like a bird expert so no, there will be no posts about the indigenous flora).
  • Raptors: So I was biking a few weeks ago and, on the overpass over the highway, I saw two large birds of prey circling around about three feet above the road (I’m going to assume there was some roadkill available). I think they were hawks, but I wouldn’t know for sure. Anyway, they were spectacular, with that swoopy grace possessed by birds of prey that make everything else in the sky look like it’s trying too hard to fly. It was one of the (few) moments in my life I actually wished I owned a camera. Anyway, they were awesome!

And thus concludes my short stint as a birder and I will not be getting any further into it. I have this theory that I can only be obsessed about the minutiae relating to a limited number of things at once and devoting a portion of my brain to bird information would probably mess up my ability to keep track of post-structuralists or the laws of Kashrut. (If I could guarantee that I was lose the former rather than the latter, I would be tempted…)

Then again, if I ever get a good look at the Pelicans who hang around by the lagoon, I might reconsider.


*I despise the American English convention of always putting the punctuation inside the quotation marks and have decided that, absent any compelling reason to obey those standards (i. e. I’m being graded using them), I will punctuate as I see fit. As I may have mentioned before, I would much prefer you think me stubborn than mistaken.

**Canadian Geese are evil and that is an unbiased statement, entirely uninfluenced by the summer I spent picking goose poop up off of every available surface around the waterfront at the sleepaway camp where I worked as a lifeguard.



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4 responses to “The Birds

  1. Abba

    Cute post; thanks.
    BTW, Grandpop Neil HATED Canadian Geese.
    Love you.

  2. Yael Shayne

    Relieved! I was sort of expecting a Hitchcockian fantasy!

  3. Phyllis L

    Those raptors were probably black or turkey vultures. They glide and soar while looking for “fast food”. If you observed the Canada geese and mallards who graze on our back yard, you might get a different opinion of them, but I absolutely agree about the seagulls.

  4. Aunto Barbo

    Well Lizzy, if you get a chance, PBS or Nat Geo did a documentary on crows to the extent that they concluded they are smarter than chimps — one of the smartest animals in the animal kingdom. Guess what, when you see this documentary, you’ll agree. It’s called “A Murder of Crows.” It is fantastic and you will probabaly be able to watch it on line…if you care to (yes, ending with a preposition…”so what; who cares.”).

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