By Keith Michael
Kek kek kek kek kek drops like aural sleet from somewhere above the rooflines.
Dragging me to the curb, Millie scavenges for an augmentation to her (obviously, according to her) inadequate continental breakfast fare. Corgi foraging leads her nose into the deepest footprints in the single leftover bank of February snow on the block.
There it is again: Kek kek kek kek kek! But now, the source of this vocal mayhem slides into view just beyond the cornice at West 11th and Washington Streets—at the pinnacle of the weathered water tower finial. Even though it’s only an hour after sunrise, a pair of Kestrals is, ahem, shall we say, “Feeling the spring!” And they’re noisy about it, too.
Quite frankly, I somehow missed the obligatory (eye-rolling) lecture from my father about “the birds and the bees.” Particularly lacking was the “birds” part, and I’m not all that clear on the complications of the “bees” part either, what with queens, winged males, drones, workers, and so on, down the Apis caste system. The mechanics of how, exactly, birds “do it” remains murky, but right here, in the clear light of morning, these brilliant orange-and-blue Falcons look like they know exactly what they’re doing, and exactly how to do it. After a break, ruffling side by side on the water tower’s ladder railing (“Cigarette, dear?”)—they’re at it again, and then again, and again.
Millie hasn’t taken notice of the overhead commotion. Her archeological dig potentially uncovering a snow-buried chicken bone, slice of pepperoni pizza, or bagel with dill cream cheese appears to be all that is on her mind.
Every warm-ish day, I’ve seen House Sparrows dodging in and out of the intersection T-bar traffic light supports, spring cleaning before the onslaught of nesting and the oodles of baby sparrows that will follow. Inside, maybe a fresh coat of paint and new slip covers for the family room? The black-cravated Casanovas posture within the halos of their castle gates proclaiming, “Home Sweet Home.”
On Millie’s recent morning walks around this block, a Mockingbird has already been strutting, tail-cocked, on a roof line, and Robins have been flirting block to block through the still bare trees. There’s been a pair of Cooper’s Hawks harassing the neighborhood pigeons, as though they’ve already established a connubial weekend routine: “Honey, I hear there’s a three-for-one special on squab at Costco. Let’s go.”
In the same amorous vein, out of the neighborhood, several weeks ago, while walking on an otherwise people-less beach on Staten Island during an un-forecasted snowstorm, I witnessed the, seemingly unexplainable in any other way, playful aerial cavorting of a white-headed-and-tailed Bald Eagle. (I bet you had no idea how that sentence would wrap up.) Flapping extravagantly with those duvet-sized wings, this eagle, probably Vito, the resident patriarch, would fling himself upside down in the air, grasp at the billowing snow, then stall for an instant, falling backward and tumbling. Part of eagles’ elaborate renewal-of-vows courtship dance is to fly high in the air with their “intended,” clasp talons, then free-fall—plummeting hooked beaks over tails in, what I can only imagine is, an erotic rush. (Quick, search YouTube for “Eagle Courtship.”) Was Linda, his betrothed, squinting through this afternoon blizzard from an oak tree high on the bluff, “Not today, dude. Are you crazy?” Or was this guy flying solo under a white invisibility cloak, perfecting his “moves” without humiliation, so that he’d be “the-smoothest-flyin’-guy-in-the-sky” when it came time for their post-Valentine’s Day candlelight dinner, roses, and box of chocolates?
Millie sits on the sidewalk looking up at me, alternating yawns and licks, her eyebrows seeming to plead, “I’m tuckered. Take me home for my mid-morning nap.”
For more information about New York City WILD! outings, birding, photographs, or books, visit www.keithmichaelnyc.com.