The snowy owl may look majestic and mysterious, but don’t be fooled — these white, feathery birds are poised to become the unexpected urban scourge of the 21st century. You heard it here first, readers: Snowy owls are the new pigeons.
Welcome to That Nature Show, a weekly column about life in your front yard. Not that front yard. Get your mind out of the gutter and go see your doctor about that. I’m talking the grass-covered one outside your front door, in city parks, and around Baltimore County’s suburban sprawl.
In the landscaped shrubbery of your yard, around medical office parks, and mini malls there’s an unseen and unacknowledged fabulous technicolor nature show going on.
I’m not just talking about squirrels. But, seriously, answer the question: What do you know about them?
Or pigeons. Or the barbarian-like pillaging of the Baltimore County deer that ate all my expensive garden center hostas. I, a novice gardener, shook my fist at the universe. Why, god, why?
A few weeks ago I overheard what I believed to be “owls” calling to each other from what I believed to be “spruce trees,” but I was just guessing. I realized I didn’t know these plants and animals at all. My own habitat was a mystery to me.
I was suffering from the environmental illiteracy/nature deficit syndrome we worry about so much in our children with their organized sports on manicured fields, and indoor classes that deprive them of Vitamin D.
So let’s go outside, or at least look out the window at the bird feeder. Safari on the cheap with me and my kids, 6 and 8, as we explore the life and times of the animals and plants that truly are our closest neighbors.
Let’s start with tufted titmice.
Step one in our nature-defecit rectification program was to put up a bird feeder. One shaped like an orb was on sale at the Irvine Nature Center gift shop and Husb. installed it in the front yard. (This in itself was like watching a nature show, but I’ll save The Habits of The Suburban Male for another column. Stay tuned.)
The kids and I sat by the bay window, our noses pressed to the glass. My son, 8, asked, “When will the parade of birds start, Mom?” (To drum up interest I may have oversold the experience as a parade. What mother doesn’t manufacture enthusiasm? To get my kids to eat broccoli I tell them they are T. rexes eating trees… and it works.)
I said, “Well, it might not be a ‘parade’ pe se…but we should see some tufted titmice. They’re abundant in eastern deciduous forests,” I said, nerdily reading aloud from the Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds and forgetting my audience. “Also, maybe, the yellow bellied sap sucker.”
If you want to be taken seriously it is a big mistake to say “tit” and “sucker” in front of an 8 year old boy.
I was talking about birds, but still. The words floated out and there was no way I could get them back.
My son went limp with hysteria. He fell against the couch cushions. His laughter sounded like a bull moose trying to hold in a sneeze. (I don’t know what that sounds like since I am new to Nature, but one can imagine, right?)