Last week Corey wrote about appreciating our local birds before the migrants arrive and it made me reflect on how easily we look past the familiar as we seek out new experiences. I’ve been meaning to start a series addressing the wonders of the common and familiar. Hopefully it can illustrate how the world unfolds before us if we decide to take a little time, look more deeply, more completely. Most readers of 10,000 Birds recognize that even the mundane can be miraculous given the right context. That context need not be determined by a new place or the arrival of a weary migrant. It can be determined by a reexamination of our current circumstances and an inner shift that allows our old perspectives to become new, vibrant, and surprising again.

Take, for example, the following scenario. You look out the window and see an American Goldfinch has joined the Pine Siskins at your feeder. A simple and satisfying moment, a blaze of yellow among the streaky brown regulars. Taken at a glance this arrival isn’t remarkable. But when you watch closely and carefully the drama of the moment begins to unfold and that simple arrival begins to resemble a grand triumph!

You filled your feeders this morning after a month off… too busy at work, life is hectic. But a long rainy weekend means you can catch up on things around the house and wouldn’t it be nice to have the chittering calls of your resident birds outside the window. An hour later the Siskins are happily quarreling and vying for position as they begin to empty your thistle feeder.

A Goldfinch appears and gives the situation a wide berth. It isn’t as simple as just flying in for your fair share.

It watches the Siskins as they erupt into airborne skirmishes over the rights to particular perches. And when it sees a free perch it decides to go for it…

only to be soundly and definitively driven away but the Siskins who are now working together. In Siskinese that means one of them is charged with fighting off the intruder while the others carefully watch the show, nibbling at the thistle as though it were popcorn in a movie house. Working together just means not fighting each other.

The Goldfinch tries over and over again from different angles, slowly then quickly, from above, below, spiraling in toward center, with no luck. He is driven away at every turn.

Then he tries to fight fire with fire. He becomes the aggressor and attacks head on, only to be turned away yet again. Forty Siskins against one Goldfinch, it is hardly a fair fight. He retreats to the distant branches and seems defeated, completely shut out from the rainy day feast just inches away. The Siskins return to their banquet and, predictably, they start fighting amongst themselves again. Sensing the opportunity…

The Goldfinch carefully slips into place while the easily agitated Siskins are distracted. At this point you turn and look out your window and notice a Goldfinch has arrived at your feeder. The whole episode lasted about five minutes which is pretty much an eternity in finch time.

It is an example of what I’m calling “Everyday Sunshine” (even though on this particular day it was raining). What is common can be spectacular given the right attention and appreciation. I’m going to spend the next two weeks looking for the sublime in the familiar and I’ll report back with another tale of beauty and intrigue from the bird world.

Has any common bird stopped you in your tracks recently?

Written by Walter
Walter Kitundu is an artist and designer, instrument builder and bird photographer. As an artist he has created hand built record players powered by the wind and rain, fire and earthquakes, birds, light, and the force of ocean waves. Walter has performed and been in residence at art centers and science museums internationally. He has performed with the renowned Kronos Quartet, bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, the electronic music duo Matmos, and the legendary Marshall Allen - in venues from Carnegie Hall to a high school library in Egilstaadir, Iceland. In 2008 Walter became a MacArthur Fellow. Walter loves photographing birds and is an ongoing volunteer with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. He was hooked when a Red-tailed Hawk landed at his side, ate a caterpillar, then refused to leave. He is a Senior Design Developer for the Studio Gallery at the Exploratorium in San Francisco where he designs and builds environments for learning. You can see more of his work on his blog, Bird Light Wind.