By Keith Michael
A tuft of down is worrying Millie’s nose. A forceful shake of her head doesn’t dislodge it. It’s too high for her tongue to reach. And it’s an ordeal to stretch her leg around from the back for a good itch. Conveniently, her corgi legs make for a short dip to the sidewalk. Whew, it’s gone.
Blocks from our usual route, we’re on our way back home from her spring checkup at the vet (Millie would rather not talk about the indignities) and we’ve made it as far as Abingdon Square. Millie’s moseying along the edge with the tulip spectacle waving above her head and a carpet of magnolia petals under her feet. This is the avian season de l’amour.
Ah, l’amour, l’amour. The local birds have adapted to not need to schedule things quite so assiduously as the migrants passing through who have to travel from their wintering grounds (often as far away as South America), rush to northern Canada to court, mate, raise a family, then hurry back thousands of miles south before the cold months bluster in.
I’ve already seen two of the first to arrive, diagnostic tail-bobbers, fresh from their winter vacations—a Phoebe, sallying out to snag a flying bug then returning to the same branch for more tail-bobbing, and a chestnut-capped Palm Warbler bob-bob-bobbing along through the grass. These are the harbingers of the parade of migrants soon to be passing through. Within five blocks of where Millie is pondering the billowing flag of Philip Martiny’s “Doughboy”, over the years, I’ve seen more than a dozen species of warblers with evocative names such as Northern Parula, Redstart, Mourning, Cerulean, Magnolia and Blackburnian, to name just a few.
Still, the spring weather, even the maddeningly peripatetic, will-it-ever-warm-up, weather of this spring, gets avian hearts aflutter. The Rock Doves (okay, aka Pigeons) are some of the most unapologetically exhibitionist in their pursuits. The males, with the inflated spangled iridescence of their chest ruffs, strut with self-importance, while the hens seem to keep their demure (or self-protecting or “dude, I’m just not that into you”) distance.
Around the edges of the green, I’m spotting no less than three randy House Sparrow suitors in their full performance mode of, what I always think of as, Spanish flamenco dances—stomping, bowing, and wheeling around, flourishing their wings like matadors’ capes. Each of these competitive fellow’s rhythmic chirp chirp chirp seems to proclaim, “I’m the ONE ONE ONE. Pick ME ME ME!” A pair of neighborhood Robins are patrolling the lawn with their characteristic step-step-step-stop-cock-the-head-listen-for-a-worm gait. But there’s also an extra advance and retreat counterpoint rhythm in their choreography—another courtship dance is unfolding. Meanwhile a firebrand Cardinal is duet-singing with his objet d’amour on the fence—an olive and red damsel, far from “in distress.”
A Blue Jay suddenly raises a ruckus from one of the London Plane trees, and this village oasis goes silent. Oh, there at the top of a lamppost, an orange-and-blue Kestral has just flown in browsing for breakfast—probably to take home to his mate already sitting on a clutch of eggs somewhere nearby. Spring has sprung.
Millie didn’t get the memo that the appearance of a Kestral commands silence. From over her shoulder, her commanding bark asks me to take her home.
For more information about New York City WILD! nature outings, birding, photographs, or books, visit keithmichaelnyc.com or follow Instagram @newyorkcitywild
Spring has sprung. A Rock Dove (aka Pigeon) goes a courtin’. Photo by Keith Michael