Bird Brains

The Next Family

By: Tanya Ward Goodman

My son loves the call of a mourning dove.

“It’s a very calming sound,” he claims.

He can recognize a mourning dove by their round dark eyes and sleek, gray bodies.  He pointed one of them out to my husband recently and my husband said, “I can’t believe you know that.  I don’t know that.”

Being with my kids makes me want to know more stuff just so that I can pass this information on.

My mom is always looking at birds; constantly peering up into trees, trying to discern if there’s a tuft or not a tuft on a little head or a square or round shape to a tail.  She is always stopping to identify a flower or a shrub or gaze upon the dirt-colored head of a lizard as if it’s some kind of sign from another world.

I thought of her this weekend while I was in the desert looking at mourning doves with my kids.  We spotted a couple of fat lizards with turquoise necks, and a roadrunner.  We stopped to watch ants march along in the sand.  We followed the circles of a hawk.  My daughter made it her mission to find as many bird nests as possible and came away satisfied that birds live almost everywhere you look.

When I was a kid, Mom didn’t force me to learn about birds.  There were no pop quizzes, no Sibley’s Guide in my holiday pile.  But she never refrained from commenting on birds, never shied away from the opportunity to point out a Towhee or a Wren or a Kestrel.  Because of this, I am familiar with birds.  I don’t keep the “life list” of the true birdwatcher, but when I hear a rustle in the trees, I look to see who’s rustling.  My mom was able to instill in me an interest in the world just by cultivating her own.

My dad did the same thing.

“Check this,” he’d say, before pulling into the most random of roadside attractions.  “Check this.”  His enthusiasm was a wave that carried us to bottle houses, doll museums, clock collections, and prima ballerinas who were roughly the age of my grandmother.  We saw through his eyes and our world broadened.

And so I try to do the same.  I talk about flowers and wonder about the shape of a cloud or the name of a particularly shiny rock.  I stock our shelves with the books I love and cook the things that make me hunger for a second bite.  If I know the answer, I share it and when I don’t (which is often) I offer to find it.

It seems to be working.  This morning, my son wondered about the meaning of the word “lunatic” and I explained insanity and then I explained that “luna” means moon and that in the old days the moon was thought to drive people mad.  Luna is moon.

“That is a really interesting fact,” my son said.

It is.  And there’s more where that came from.

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[Photo Credit: osseous]

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