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Listening for the Worm

Two days before Mother’s Day, I went to a local garden with Mom where they were having a sale on their plants. The sun was too hot for me and the plants were strangers, so I sat on a bench by the pond, in the shade, while Mom gathered up her new friends. I’d been told that a turtle did a log rolling exhibition in the middle of the pond, when he felt like it, but at that moment he was just resting on the log, getting some sun, so I watched as a duck did a systematic search of the pond, spiraling out from the center, doing surface dives with his butt up in the air and his orange feet paddling furiously. He was looking under the water for something, but I couldn’t see what. Had he lost his keys? Finally, he got tired and went to the spot where the other ducks were resting in the tall grass.

Can you see the turtle out there on the log?

Can you see the turtle out there on the log?

That’s when I noticed a lone robin coming towards me. He was hopping, and looking around, and pausing, and pecking for seeds. I sat still on the wooden bench and watched him as he stepped closer and closer to me. He stared in my direction for a long moment, and then hopped and pecked, and came even closer. Is it possible to make eye contact with a bird? He seemed about to say Hello, when someone approached from the other side of the pond, and he startled and ran for the trees.

When I got home I noticed that there were quite a lot of birds standing on the grass in our yard, just staring into space. Most often they were robins, with their red breasts puffed up and beaks in the air. Mom said that the robins were listening to the underground noises that would tell them where to dig for worms, but I thought it looked like they were doing their daily meditation exercises, breathing in the smells of spring and exhaling the toxic cold of the winter.

Is he listening?

Is he listening or meditating?

The way they leaned and tilted and turned their heads and stretched, it looked like they were doing a form of bird yoga. Mountain pose and Triangle pose were recognizable, but the most impressive pose was when they tilted forward with their weight cantilevered precariously over their tiny legs.

007

Bird Yoga

It always seemed to be one bird alone, with a wide expanse of lawn to search, instead of two birds, or a group, working together. Maybe listening for the worm is a lot like writing, you need to be alone to concentrate.

“I’m not a bird!”

Butterfly does her own version of listening for the worm, or listening for the birds who are listening for the worms. She will run and gallop and stop short to listen, with her nose in the air, and her ears turned to the sound. She captures bird song, and the growling of low planes, and the sound of wind ruffling the leaves, until she feels all filled up. Cricket doesn’t do this. Cricket fills herself up by sniffing every blade of grass. Twice.

Butterfly, listening for the birds.

Butterfly, listening for the birds.

Cricket sniffing, again.

Cricket sniffing, again.

I’ve tried to convince the robins in the backyard that I am not a danger to them. I’ve told them the story of the robin at the pond who wanted to be my friend, but they are still circumspect, even though I am no danger to their food supply. I don’t eat worms, first of all, and I don’t have the patience to stand in one spot and wait for food to come. I prefer the short walk to the kitchen myself. But they insist on fluttering away when I get too close. Maybe if I just sit on the front step, and wait, one brave bird will consider looking my way.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

55 responses »

  1. I don’t know, Rachel. You might want to have Cricket show you how to sniff every blade of grass. Twice. Something tells me she would just love to you show you it’s done. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Or you could find the robin’s are outsmarting you, like mine did here:

    http://livingtheseasons.com/2012/07/30/stalking-an-elusive-robin/

    Have a good weekend! And take a lesson from Cricket – enjoy life everywhere you go.

    Nancy

    Reply
  3. This is a really ‘spring’ like blog from you Rachel, I do enjoy your word pictures and wouldn’t a turtle log rolling have been great. all birds and wild life are fun to watch especially when everything is waking up after winter and you have such cold winters compared to ours.

    Reply
  4. We often watch Robins listening for a meal in our back garden. We also watch Ray listening, and sometimes seemingly tracking, some mysterious creature. Our guess is that it is a chipmunk in a tunnel under our lawn.

    Reply
    • We have mysterious holes in the backyard too, are you saying we have creatures tunneling under there?

      Reply
      • If the holes go well down and turn …………… yup! You have a whole network of “roads” under there! We have seen chipmunks disappearing down ours…… as for yours? Chipmunks? Rabbits? Mice?

      • Ooh, could we have rabbits? The holes seem a little small for rabbits though. And the feral cats would scare the mice away, I think. I’ll have to ask Cricket if she can do a sniff check for me.

      • Rabbits can get down some pretty small holes. Watching the area in the evening will generally answer the rabbit question as that is when they are quite active. I bet Cricket already knows what is down there, but whether she will tell you ……….. or choose to keep you in suspense …………?????? 🙂

  5. Yes, you can make eye contact with a bird. I should know.

    Reply
  6. I loved this post!!!!! We have a blue jay that has given on the waiting for the worm thing. He just comes to the dry dog food bowl on the patio and gets a chunk for his breakfast every morning and every evening. He is rather brazen about the whole thing. If the dog bowl is empty he stands on the back of one of the patio chairs and stares us down.

    Reply
  7. last spring a male robin caught site of himself in a reflective window of the RV in the lot next to ours, and he spent all his time hurling himself at the window, coz he thought it was an enemy, it was heartbreaking to watch him hurt himself to protect himself, but isn’t that the way we all work?

    Reply
  8. Well described, closely observed creatures. Are your robins like ours, I wonder? Known as the gardener’s friend, they will almost get under your feet as you dig. A standard Christmas card design has one of these red breasted birds perched on a spade or wheelbarrow etc.

    Reply
  9. We used to watch the blackbirds listening for worms. It was fascinating, and they very rarely missed their quarry, especially if they had youngsters to feed. Then of course we’d watch them doing that too. Every year, we would have at least two successful broods, sometimes three or four, so we’re pretty convinced we had two pairs of blackbirds in our garden.

    Reply
  10. Nice listening! Yes, birds make eye contact. Some of them have such small eyes, we can’t always see what they are looking at, but even the 8 weeks old Osprey chicks now make eye contact. I can see that through my zoom lens only 😉

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  11. I would have chased all those varmints

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  12. Ha ha love the turtle on the log 🙂 well spotted!!!

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  13. Brilliantly observed, as ever, Rachel. I suspect the robins in your patch are more wary of Butterfly and Cricket than fazed by your good self. As Honey repeatedly tells me, dogs and birds don’t mix!

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  14. I’ve always found it fascinating watching Robins on the hunt for worms. They are most definitely listening. Thank you for elevating what could be called a mundane experience to a keenly observed and descriptively elegant story.

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  15. Little birds tend to be more easily frightened than larger ones, I guess. I know that the large, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos in our local park are relatively unafraid of people: likewise, the Laughing Kookaburras. The tiny birds such as Willy Wagtails scatter far more readily when people come past.
    Lovely post!
    .

    Reply
  16. With so much rain this month, the worms have come crawling up to the surface to ‘dry’ off. Sam sniffs at them on the sidewalks but then happily resumes his travels. Our robins to be ‘whining’ about all the rain and don’t seem to prefer the ‘smorgasbord’ on the sidewalks. Maybe they are just extra hungry for solid protein rather than the watered down version they’ve been getting lately. With birds, who knows? 🙂

    Reply
  17. Birds, rabbits, groundhogs, foxes – they don’t visit. Three loud dachshunds keep them at bay. A neighbor tells me a milk snake lives at the far end of our property. He better stay there – the mighty dachshunds will take care of him otherwise

    They might be small but they’re tough! 😀

    I enjoyed reading this, Rachel!

    Reply
  18. Hie…butterfly is very cute 😀 I tagged you in the Love/Hate Tag (https://healthbeautyfashionandcooking.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/lovehate-tag/). I had fun doing it and I really look forward to reading things you LOVE ❤ and HATE 😦

    Prynka 🙂

    Reply
  19. Robins are perhaps my favorite birds. Always so feisty and cheery..and harbingers of spring. I had a couple of them at my old house that would come back each year and perch on the fence and fix all comers with that beady black eye. Sadly one of them was hit by a car (must have been flying low I guess) and then the lone bird only came around sporadically. Up here at my new house I never saw any until this year … now there’s one. He (I always thing of them as boys for some reason) sits on the split rail fence around the protected wet land and chirps his heart out. His red breast blazing. I suspect there is plenty of food for him this year as we’ve had a lot of rain. Thank you for posting this little picture of a beautiful spring day and the joy of living things!

    Reply
  20. Maybe if you learn the robin’s bird call, they might not fly off. I love the robins I see every in the yard every day. There are a lot of other song birds, too. There is only one bird that drives me crazy. It is the Northern Mockingbird. They are very territorial and like to chase the other birds and dive bomb people who get too close to their nests.

    Reply
  21. I loved this one! Finding community can be a problem outside our species – and an even bigger one within it sometimes. 🙂

    Reply

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