"We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing..."

birdsI've been seeing only a very few birds over and over. Northern mockingbirds, mourning doves, curved-bill thrashers, house finches and sparrows. I think I saw a phainopepla yesterday, but my mother and I were driving and it could have been a grackle. I'd like to try and insinuate some bird language into our conversations, to replace or refine some ideas that I personally find lacking in their current definitions.

First, hedgerow sparrows are known for a curious kind of unofficial polygamy. A male and female pair will bond and stay together throughout a breeding season, but one usually finds a "beta" male slinking around the bushes waiting for the female to get a spare moment. The beta male was probably unsuccessful at finding a mate that particular season. The female-beta male trysts are consensual and cause the alpha male to go into a fair bit of a tizzy. Since one of my top 10 major dislikes is slut-shaming of any kind, let's drop the word and the notion. It always takes two to tango--if there's only one person waving their arms around, then that's not a tango. SO. No sluts, no home-wreckers. Intention ain't nothing but assumption. And, once some action does happen, IF it's any of your business, and it probably isn't, it's just a couple of sparrows in the hedgerow.

Speaking of shady business, ducks are assholes. The biological term for what ducks do is "forced mating." Which is not what I call it. So from now on, call it like you see it: if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, do not let it buy you a fucking drink. And if it tries to drag your friend out of the bar for a night swim, call the police. Goddamn ducks.

But let's not end on sad notes. Let's first talk about scrub jays. Male scrub jays are most successful at defending a territory with which they are familiar. In other words, they stay in the neighborhood, and if they can't find a place nearby of their own, they often stay with their parents and forgo mating to help ensure their parents' continued success. The female birds fly far away (ahem). So, rather than using a term that makes mothers seem like something one is supposed to outgrow--let's call these men scrub jays and let's appreciate their loyalty and call it a strength.

And finally, albatrosses. Oh ALBATROSSES. Leave the fast, jumpy lives to the warblers! These are not harbingers of doom or bad luck at all. Albatrosses live a long time--at least one is known to be over 60 years old and still laying eggs--as a result, they take a long time to mature. Each year, the young male and female albatrosses come back to the breeding grounds that hatched them, and they practice mating dances. These dances are complex: they have what researchers call their own "syntax"--and the birds understand it from a young age, but can't "speak" it until they're older. When they finally arrive one year, dancing like adults, they find the mate who speaks exactly their language and they stick with them for life.* Ever after, they will know their mate no matter the miles between them, because they memorize one another during that one season of dancing. RIGHT? Now if you have already found your albatross, go tell them you love them. And if you haven't, just keep dancing until you find someone who really gets you. Don't settle for less.

* I feel like I would be misleading you if I didn't mention that albatrosses DO sometimes get divorced. While humans may decide not to reproduce on principle, no other animal yet is known to do that. After *several* years of unsuccessful breeding, albatross pairs have been observed to go their separate ways. Which is just exactly as sad as it sounds.