Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bird Watching

From time to time a hush comes over the garden. My neighbors’ music players have simultaneously fallen silent. No trucks or busses are using engine brakes on the highway. The children are not playing soccer in the street. Shrimp trucks with loudspeakers are elsewhere. In this preternatural silence the anis fly into the garden. It is hard not to believe that they have some causal relationship to this lacuna in the noisy bustle of San Pancho—as though their unrelieved blackness is connected not only to absence of light, but sound as well.

The Grooved-Billed Ani is a cuckoo-related bird. In side view, nearly half the head is given over to a great, blunt beak. Yes, birds are dinosaurs, I think when I see that profile. Anis lay their eggs, not like cuckoos, in another species’ nest, but in a communal nest of four or five pairs. Their extended family of eight or ten glides in on wings silent as owl’s, and enters the deepest foliage where their blackness is hardly distinguishable from the shadows. There is only the slightest rustle and tremor in the leaves as they move through. The anis make no more sound than the occasional brushing feather. Insects and lizards are not forewarned.

The anis use my garden as their family table. I like intact leaves and healthy color, so our interests coincide. They eat the stink bugs which can suck the life out of hibiscus. It is so quiet I can hear the tiny crunch as the bugs are crushed and I get a whiff of their unmistakable odor. I hold still so the birds will be undisturbed. Even the breeze is careful. Too soon, in twos and threes, they glide silently away.

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