Thursday, October 6, 2016


A few days ago, I wrote a blog about a variety of birds splashing in clean water that my friend, Dr. Victoria Sullivan, had put in the bird bath in the front yard. She kept filling the bath with water from the reverse osmosis filtered water tap in the kitchen, but yesterday she decided to fill the bath via the garden hose as the process for filling was so much easier. But the result wasn’t the same! To our surprise, no birds appeared for their morning bath. We waited, checking hourly for the appearance of our feathered friends. By afternoon, we decided to change the bath, filling it with purified water again. Voila! One by one, the sparrows, cardinals, catbirds, nuthatch, titmouse and other small species took turns splashing in the bird bath until supper time, then departed before dusk for their home in the clump of blackberry bushes by the drive.

“How did they know that the water was purified?” I asked Vickie.

“Maybe those small heads have more brain power than humans think they have.”

“I guess because they live here at Sewanee, the bastion of elitism, they think they’re entitled to pure water.”

“Or maybe they’re just spoiled for me and my ministrations,” Vickie concluded.

Dr. Sullivan is a botanist, not an ornithologist, so I consulted my old friend, Google, and the only answer that made sense for me was a simple one: birds don’t like the additives in ordinary tap water. In fact, some bird lovers relate that they’ve seen birds drinking from mud puddles before they’d drink from bird baths filled with ordinary tap water. Think of it – chlorine, fluoride, and other chemicals pollute water that even birds disdain; in fact, many of them become ill from drinking tap water. Unfortunately, there’s no water control board in the bird world, so they’re on their own about finding good water sources.

There are many reasons for humans to watch the behavior of birds, including, it seems, that of learning good health habits. One cardinal was so grateful for the return of purified water, he dared to walk up to the herb bed by the front door and peek in. He was accompanied by a catbird who looked as if she wanted to engage in a flirtation, but the cardinal wasn’t playing. When the catbird turned her head, the cardinal lifted wing and flew off.

“If St. Francis of Assisi could get birds to sit on his shoulders, perhaps we have a chance to befriend them,” I told Vickie.

The reply to this was downright insulting. “But he was a person who had given up all the luxuries of this world, and those birds sensed his holiness.”

“I guess his stance of poverty means no allowances for purified water,” I said dejectedly.

I've written many bird poems, most of them about crows and grackles, but here’s an old “snippet” (as distinct from a full-bodied poem) from A Moment Seized that’s a bit more inclusive. It’s entitled “Spring Feathers”:

“Mockingbird shrieks in the spring air
making a stand-off with a plump jay,
too much the warrior in his incaution.
A brief fight and they glide away,
reminders of fleeting friendship.
In their tiny brains spring is a code,
a minute groove in mockingbird, robin, sparrow
foretelling the resurrection—
light out of shadow,
bloom out of folded bud,
sooth in the heart of a pistil,
the brief flurry of feather.”

Glasswork of Painted Bunting by Karen Bourque, glass artist, Church Point, Louisiana. Photographed by Dr. Victoria Sullivan as it hangs in a window of our Sewanee house.  

Post a Comment