9 Close Encounters of the Bird Kind
Watching Bingley is a study in evolution. I’ve mentioned that he’s a dog-cat (by behavior, Felis canis) and a house lion (by preference, Felis leo domesticus).
But attentive watching over time shows the innate or potential or “ghost” presence of a number of other animals. Once a moth got into the house, and in pursuit of it he called to mind a ferret–same thing with flies. As a rather full-figured fella, he sometimes gives the impression of a raccoon. When he’s taking his morning tour on my shoulder, if he decides he hasn’t quite finished his breakfast yet and wants to get down now, he’ll twist and squirm like an otter. From one angle, looking at his face from below, the shape of his jaw and nose will call to mind, of all creatures, a dolphin. While he takes no special interest in rabbits–I think, like me, he has a distaste for them–he seems to have an empathy for squirrels: he likes to watch them scramble up the crabapple tree. My wife says that when his ears perk up and he looks like he’s ready to stalk, he shows bobcat features. Sometimes when he curls up to sleep, he looks almost human–no offense intended to our feline friends. In his moments of wise reflection with his eyes wide open and glowing, he may even call an owl to mind.
But he has other moments when no one could mistake him for anything but a cat. He loves to watch birds out the window: he admires their speed in flight. But his reaction to them shows instinctive response. Last spring we opened the window in his room so he could get a better look at the garden. Out from behind the evergreens popped a good-sized duck, quacking and angry that we’d disturbed her in her hiding place. As the duck ambled off, complaining, Bingley looked at me before she could get too far away and asked, “Room in the freezer?”
A couple summers back we were looking out the back window at the trumpet vine with its large, inverted-vase flowers. Bingley was standing on the window sill, and right up to screen flew a hummingbird. It held its position right in front of Bingley’s eyes for a few moments, then dashed off. “Wow!” Bingley said. A face to face encounter!
Earlier this week, before the new snows hit, we were looking out front when a mourning dove dropped suddenly onto the railing. In the midst of her second coo she got sight of Bingley staring out at her, stifled her complaint, and nearly fell off backwards before catching her balance and zooming away. He didn’t even have time to do his bird imitation for her. He had a sad look on his face and said only “Mmaooo. . . .” experiencing, I think, a sense of loss.
Once a small bird, a finch, I think, did a header into one of the big windows in the sun room and nearly knocked itself out. Bingley insisted I go outside to check if it was all right. I kneeled by it, and it managed to stand up and hop away. Shortly after that it flew off. That seemed to please him. It’s not all about food, you see. His interest is ornithological, not simply gustatory. Maybe he has just a bit–just a bit–of bird in his genetic material, too. We’re all family in the ecosystem.
We remember those encounters and talk about them occasionally. He thinks fondly of them and hopes for more. “Cultural exchange,” he says.