Isherwood Commentary: Farm Birds
By Justin Isherwood
To suggest there are “farm birds” is to say there are city birds and landfill birds. One of my favorite images of bald eagles is of a gaggle of a half dozen of those heroic icons feeding together. In the background of the photograph is a majestic range of mountains suggesting the grandeur of the wilderness and unblemished nature. Prints of this photo are available in poster size. The original photo detailed the site was a municipal dump which the photographer neatly cropped.
Farm birds are often thought of as squalid. Species who have cheapened themselves and adapted to farmsteads, the welfare-mother version of nature. Pigeons come to mind, rock doves if you prefer. We have several nesting in the car garage that I have promised my wife that I would fix. The car is often beneath their roosting site and accordingly autographed by their presence. As we civilized beings who habitually defecate in perfectly good water, I don’t feel any too critical of the species for autographing our car. To secretly hope it would start a fashion for that authentic rural car look. All those SUV commercials show off these now ubiquitous urban buses handling the rigors of the Outback. What’s more authentically Outback than a car nicely done with pigeon poop?
Truth is I admire pigeon flight, their eating pattern is also fascinating. If you have ever watched, pigeons feed on the ground at voracious pace, seemingly ingesting everything on the ground, on some kind of statistical chance that some of what they ingest will have nutritive value. Pigeons use the same Gatling gun approach to diet I recall from the farmhouse table where grown men consumed their food with scoop-shovel earnest.
The retinue of farm birds of course includes the sparrow, a.k.a. English sparrow, a Rufus hued bird that fills every haymow, granary and machine shed with its lifefulness. In the age of GAP meaning Good Agricultural Practice for the sake of process vegetables, the elimination of any chance of bird droppings near food supplies has caused dairy barns and storage sheds to become bird-free. A motive I feel pernicious in its selectivity, as people pick the strawberries and the onions and the carrots in fields manured, violated by deer, gophers, and feel no similar insult. Many urban cities drink whatever happened upstream and yet thrive if occasionally crypto-sporidium does occur from cows a touch too approximate to the streams.
The starling is the Shakespeare of birds. If only it was a touch more attractive. The starling is not a fashionable creature, as for bright plumage it rather not. The starling reminds me of Jim Nabors, that dimwitted character of the Andy Griffith Show and the Mayberry version of America. Nabors, it turned out had this bellowing baritone who reigned at the Indy 500 for some 42 years singing “Back Home in Indiana.” A rendition that almost made me want to go there.
The last big tribe to call the farmstead prima-fascia is the barn swallow. On the barn swallow there are only two choices, either you love barn swallows or hate them. My option is adoration. Their flight is among the most artistic of birds, their adobe mud cliff dwellings are sumptuous as they are architecturally astute. Equip a barn with a well-tended cow yard and it has all the makings of barn-swallow greatness. Being a vegetable farmer I am to some disadvantage as to this resource. To better facilitate barn swallows I have dug a pool at the far end of my barn, added the good essence of horse manure, to re-water the site occasionally to provide the rare material for these feathered Anasazi who chatter away in the eaves of my barn as celebratory citizens.
As a child I once asked my father what was heaven like. Raising his eyes to the barn eaves and its long row of barn swallow hogans he said, I think it is rather like those swallows who fly with grace, are joyful in all things and are ever willing to sing the hosanna.
I am humbled by birds, the very same who share my farm. Pollyannaish as it may be, as my father said, be as those swallows in the barn eaves, ever joyful.