bird watching

colleen hueting

sophie ferruzza

I’ve told my friends I can spot them in a crowd, from far away, by the way they walk. I’m more aware of a person’s rhythmic patterns than I am of their face. Birds live by these patterns. Habits are in other species the same way that one friend folds up napkins perfectly when they’re nervous. A bird will flick their wings or bob their tail. A human will bounce their leg or pick down the skin around their nails. Bird watching. Human watching. Pfft. Same thing.

Nearly every morning, I roll over to the sound of one singular bird whistling what sounds like the first 4 notes of Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven. Over and over, until I get up and shut the window, I hear that dun dun dun dunnn. I am constantly annoyed that I never get to hear that bird whistle the rest of the song. I think it knows it’s toying with me, especially since I’ve never been able to spot it amongst the other morning songs. I can’t glare daggers at it until it finally moves on from those 4 notes.

Monday, April 18th, 8:30-9:45 in the morning.

I pause my search through clutter for the Britta filter as I spot two of my close friends walking back to the dorm with Starbucks in their hands. I can hear their laughter clearly and I fight my first instinct that compels me to feel jealous. I try to focus on how happy they sound instead, their laughter bursting in through my open window. The shorter has a long periwinkle haircut. It’s endearing on her, complementive to her face, the ends of her bangs tinted pastel pink and orange. I think in another life I could’ve loved her and those perfect cupid bow lips. The taller of the pair has a puffy jacket, huddling against the cold and her ponytail swinging with every step. Even from my window I can tell they both did their makeup for the day. I nearly wish I could get up early enough and care to change my face with such commitment, but instead I get up to watch people from my window.

I make my coffee and sit on my slightly uncomfy loveseat. It folds up for storage and I’ve long ago accepted that may be the very reason for its discomfort. I huddle a blanket over my shoulders, bunching it up in front of me so that no crisp breeze can molest anything other than my face. Despite the brisk air, the sky is clear and bright sunlight encompasses the vast green lawn in front of me. From my dorm window and past the lawn, I can see the patio of the main cafeteria building, fixed with tables that have either orange or maroon umbrellas.

He’s a taller guy that walks with his chin up and bulky headphones off one ear. He takes the diagonal sidewalk behind the big green lawn but crosses in front of the trees, the fountain, and the gazebo. He’s got a tiptoe way of walking, but while kind of stomping at the same time. I know him and I don’t necessarily like him. It’s not that he’s ever wronged me, I just don’t trust him. The entire walk, he keeps his left fist in his pocket and his right hand swinging by his side. On the way back he has a package and his head chirps abruptly in my direction. I duck down, afraid to be seen. Who’s scared more when they spot each other: the human or the bird they’re watching?

Acadian Flycatcher. They sit straight so that they’re always alert for insects to prey on. Their eyes dart around constantly after new targets. They’re broad birds and hefty, tyrannical and thick-headed. If they could walk, they’d have a mixture of stomping on tiptoes, walking vertically instead of forwards.

The next one has a white hoodie under a black winter coat and he’s walking extremely fast. He crossed my field of vision, hands jammed in pockets, much quicker than anyone else. He’s probably late for class.

House Sparrow. Flies in a direct line, quickly. When stopped they hunch over crumbs but always wary of a stray cat they may encounter.

She’s in a winter coat and shorts. It was supposed to snow today. Tell me why if it’s cold enough for a big coat like that someone would wear shorts. I mean, I’m always a supporter of questionably warm outfits on a cold day, but if that’s the route you’re going then you need to ditch the coat. She’s got a long cream colored bag that I’d probably see a soccer mom who’s a preaching vegan use at the farmers market. I don’t think we’d be friends.

Downy Woodpecker. They prefer cold climates, keeping to North America and its upper areas. They’re small, black and white with what I’d call a mohawk that is tinted neon orange at the very end of it.

Two middle aged people—probably campus security—in a golf cart zoom by, the guy in the passenger seat wears sunglasses and an odd beanie that’s orange enough I thought it was hair at first glance. He waves his hand by the wrist the way my grandma does when she wants us to move her wheelchair somewhere, like reaching for a dish on the top shelf and pretending they’re not tall enough so someone will do it for them.

Great Blue Heron. Can be spotted from miles away when flying in the air. No other bird flaps their wings as slowly. They don’t zoom for cover as to avoid being spotted, they’re authoritative in the way that they know people can see them.

There’s someone in the gazebo, to the right of the sidewalk I’ve been watching. I didn’t see them walk there and I’m momentarily surprised they escaped my sight. They’re gone almost as soon as I notice them, walking across the grass to leave rather than using the sidewalk. Anyone who buys white shoes would never do that. My aunt always buys me white shoes for Christmas no matter how many times I tell her it isn’t practical.

Little Blue Heron. They stalk the shallow waters, patient and attentive. They have a quiet and methodical approach that makes them easy to overlook.

Saturday, April 23rd, 2:20-2:40 in the afternoon.

Spread out in the lawn in front of and to the left of the patio are two blue pop ups and seven crappy white fold up tables, the kind that my mom used in our front yard from my covid high school graduation. The branches are filled with temptation for the birds today, music I don’t know lurring them all to take a seat. They flutter their wings as they hop from branch to branch, hunched over and doing what I assume to be some sort of crafting. They don’t play the cornhole games set up on the lawn, the soccer balls left in the grass are untouched.

The hot coffee I stir has sprinkles of condensation on the lip of the cup, the steam curling inwards before rising with the breeze from the open window. It’s a gray kind of day. They are all probably wishing for the sun. Despite the amount of specimens at the tables, there is barely any chirping.

Someone in black jeans and a hugging white shirt brings Starbucks to her friend at a table. I’m surprised she went to get the drinks alone. All the people that can walk places alone without a burden of flooding thoughts and impositions are a different breed to me. What is it about a person walking comfortably that makes them elegant? Is it confidence? When loneliness becomes a friend instead of a dreaded companion, does beauty suddenly walk alongside it?

Red-eyed Vireos. Most commonly found alone, hopping from branch to branch more deliberately than most birds. They pause to scan their surroundings. They are observant, a mixture of light colors, mostly gray and white with splashes of pastel yellow and sky blue. Lonely illuminated bird, at peace with purpose by itself.

A girl in blue jeans and a flowy white pirate shirt runs on the diagonal sidewalk that leads out of view, her white shoes sparking up behind her as she goes. That sidewalk either leads into the building or back into my view but I don’t see her again. I keep waiting for her to reappear.

Bald Eagle. A regal bird, soaring in solitude and chasing for their food. They don’t do their own hunting but rather snatch it from others. When not in their nest, they appear and disappear in flight, often only being glimpsed by the viewer. Their nests are so high up on the water it’s almost impossible to inspect up close or long enough to become an acquaintance.

Someone at a table raises a circle that is pleasantly hot pink and blue, flaunting it in a fanning motion above their head. I have no idea what it is but I can safely assume that they’re all doing some craft. Still, I’m frowning and frustrated that I don’t know what it is and they all do. I don’t actually hear what it was until a couple hours later.

Mockingbird. They have flashy arrivals, small heads and long tails. They’re showy birds, they like attention.

Another one hops to an empty table, setting her things down and taking a moment to glance around. Her head dips down to her phone. She’s waiting for someone. As she sits she adjusts her chair one too many times, using her phone as a crutch. I think it’s sad she can’t sit somewhere alone in public without needing that rectangular box in her hand as a distraction to the fact that she’s sitting still and alone for even a moment. I do that too.

Eventually, her light brownish orange jacket is complemented by someone in a swamp green one that sits across from her, reaching his hands across the table even when she doesn’t take them. He likes her.

Mute Swan. An elegant bird, the one in all those Russian ballets and European fairy tales. They have a vibrant sunset orange beak and can turn from passive to hazardous in a heartbeat. They form long-lasting pairs, mating with a singular other bird for life—which created their symbolism for love.

I see my two friends again, walking out of step as they open the building doors. They don’t take the steps that lead under the patio at the same time. They sit down at one of the tables, with the lonely girl and her lovestruck friend. I switch on my phone to check the group chat. No messages. I haven’t even drunk half of my bitter coffee but they’re finally playing good music.

Thursday, April 28th, 5:45 in the morning. An hour before I have to get up for work. A whole hour of sleep.

Dun dun dun dunnn.

Friday, April 29th, 9:55 at night.

Squatting over my carpet and the open pizza box my friend brought to me, I leap up as I notice someone sprinting down the sidewalk. I put a foot up on the loveseat by the window as I rip the piece of pepperoni pizza from my mouth, chewing as I watch this guy sprint for his life while wearing khakis, dress shoes, and a sweater. Some random people shout loudly in the distance.

Red-crowned Parrot. They can fly as fast as 27 miles per hour. While they tend to announce themselves with throaty screeches, their leafy-green bodies disappear as soon as they land on a branch. Spotting one is more on the rare side due to their numbers dropping from the illegal cage bird trade.

Not soon after, there’s a large group chattering loudly. I involuntarily raise my eyebrows at the sight of the pink shifting blue cones that they’re all wearing on their head while they loudly yell “WAHHH” as they walk leisurely down the sidewalk. I decide that the cones are more likely unicorn horns than party hats because they’re slightly thinner.

Heerman’s Gull. Their bright red beaks could almost be argued to be orange. They steal catches from pelicans and other sea birds while they travel among large flocks. They make loud squawks, similar to the seagull Scuttle from “The Little Mermaid” or maybe the annoying ones in “Finding Nemo.”

An hour has passed before I notice someone else of further interest, a person in all black sprints faster than the guy in khakis. They’ve gotta be on the track team. Personally, I hate long distance running and think it’s a special form of torture but I always end up being good friends with people who enjoy it.

Spotted Owl. Most active at night, they have eyes like a bottomless pit and hunt their prey—woodrats and flying squirrels—silently. Although a fast flier, these birds tend to have sloppy landings.

I rub my eyes, sitting by the window in the dark room and duly noting a couple of drunk skirt wearing girls stumbling their way back to their dorm. They pass a tree that I once watched a drunk guy climb while walking on this sidewalk I spend so much time keeping an eye on. Their words are piercing but too slurred for me to understand from here. After they’ve left my sight, I hear the door to my building open and I assume they’ve gotten home safe. I climb into bed and close my eyes.

Steller’s Jay. A strikingly blue bird with a black head that tends to be prey to larger birds. They are usually graceful, almost lazy, when flying. Although they can be prey, this bird is deadly in its own regard, preferring peanuts but also attacking small birds if needed.

Thursday, May 5th, 2:00 in the afternoon.

Sitting backwards in the loveseat, I lean my chin on my forearms against the window sill as I listen to the lawnmower. The guy driving it has got bulky headphones on and sunglasses, seemingly focused on the vital job of cutting grass and filling the air with the smell of chlorophyll, the smell that grass gives off when being cut in hopes that something will receive the alarm signal and help it. He vanishes behind a tree with small fluttering butterfly leaves in the wind.

American White Pelican. They are skillful food thieves that steal fish from other pelicans and even from food brought back from fellow birds for their young. Contrary to fictional tales, they don’t carry off their food in their beak, they tend to swallow before flying.

The opposite sidewalk to the one I usually watch is more trafficked today, which is inconvenient because it’s so much farther. Two guys, both in blue jeans, a maroon t-shirt, and black backpacks, walk with the space of a car separating them. They don’t seem to know each other but I wonder if they’re aware that they’re practically each other’s doppelgangers.

Pacific Golden Plover and the American Golden Plover. These similar looking birds share an extreme and delicate beauty simply in the detail of their feathers, spotted with shimmering gold flecks on their black and white bodies. The only ways to differentiate them, apart from spotting the slight comparisons in appearance, are through their voices or their flights.

An older lady walks slowly down my usual sidewalk, head perking every which way. She pauses at the intersection, face tuned in my direction and I wonder if I’ve finally been noticed. I feel like she stares at me for a while before she moves on and although the thought of being caught would be funny to me, I force myself not to move but fight the urge to squirm away from the window. It makes me a little anxious that someone may see me too.

Crested Caracara. Although it can fly, it is seen walking leisurely on the ground or perched high above everything else, as if it knows that it looks like a hawk and acts like a vulture. They’re not shy or reclusive, they know they are kind of the boss of their areas.

Excerpt from a friend, who knows I like to sit at the open window:

I wonder if she watches, looms with her ears sharpened, waits. I wonder if she sits at that window and watches me just as I search for her. Does she watch as my eyes flit and scramble, is she trying to stay silent while she patiently waits? Does she even see me? Is she even awake? She’s probably not even watching. But the knowledge that she could be is pressing. They say knowledge is power but right now, here, it feels like the sharpest burden, slowly crushing and cracking each bone with anticipation. Is that a dark figure peeking out the window? Will I see myself in her writing just as she would see herself in mine?

Red-Tailed Hawk. A bird of prey. A silent hunter, lying, waiting for their prey with their eyes fixed for the movements of a vole or rabbit. They wait out the cold weather before climbing back to the sky. When do they strike? When their prey is most vulnerable.