“Get off my lawn” he screamed at me, and I could see he meant it. Those may not have been his exact words, but there was no mistaking the hostility in his beady eyes and the way his face jutted out aggressively.
I wanted to tell him that some people would say that the lawn actually belonged to me, not to him. I could have told him that I did have a piece of paper saying so, and that I pay an enormous sum in mortgage every month for the privilege of mowing this lawn and removing every last weed. But I didn’t tell him anything. For one thing, he would have probably asked me how any land can belong to an individual, a deeply philosophical question for which I have no answer. For another, he does not understand English. Neither do I understand his language, which, for want of a better word, I shall call red-winged blackbirdese.
The male red-winged blackbird is a beautiful creature – those orange-red epaulettes are especially striking (and he knows that, for he takes care to fluff them up every once in a while). He is as vain as any male model would be, and he is territorial and aggressive. He also a hoarse cry that makes you wonder if he has chronic laryngitis.
There was a time, not long after we built this house, when I lamented the lack of any birds in my garden. There was just a bland green lawn in the backyard, and a few young trees here and there. Not too many plants, certainly no butterflies, and no birds. A few years later, the butterflies are still not too common, although there are plenty of bumblebees, honey bees, dragonflies and those pretty blue damselflies that make you wish you had your camera with you.
In time the birds have come. The pond has its resident mallard ducks (with visiting geese, hooded mergansers, gulls and egrets). The garden too, has its admirers – the deep-blue necked grackles and the orange-breasted robins, there are the occasional goldfinches, pheasants, starlings and hummingbirds. I’ve heard barred owls hoot at night and more rarely, heard a barn owl or two. But the birds I am guaranteed to see every time I step into my backyard are the red-winged blackbirds – specifically, the male blackbirds.
The females look like overgrown sparrows and if you see them at all, it’s when they are timidly hopping on the very bottom of the backyard lawn, right by the rushes, never venturing too far. The males, though, will come right up to a few feet away from you and pretend nonchalance. As self-appointed sentries of our garden, they like to sit at the very top of our young, 20 foot-tall maple trees and screech at anyone who passes close to them. Sometimes, they will even fly down to the nearest tree beside us and let us know that we are trespassing on their property.
You can see why they would write a rhyme saying “Down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose” – these blackbirds do look like they would peck my nose one day. Still, don’t you think that nursery rhyme was unnecessarily cruel? Where was PETA and SPCA when you needed them? They baked 420 blackbirds in a pie? I’m only glad the birds could fly out and peck people.
We now have at least three families of blackbirds residing in our garden, none of whom, I assure you, came from any pie. (Any pies I may make will only have blackberries, not blackbirds.) But I still worry – only now, I worry that the blackbirds are driving away all the other birds. In hindsight, I think when I wished for birds in my garden, perhaps I should have been a little more specific.
This week, I summoned up some outrage and went to speak to the blackbird. “Seeyee, Conkaree“, I said in a poor imitation of its call. “This is my lawn and I am going to weed here now.”
“Seeyee”, the blackbird replied. “You are living in my land and you don’t even bother to learn my language properly.”
At least that’s what I think he said.