ODE TO JOY BIRDS
The singing kind are such joy birds,
One rarely hears a whiner.
Chirping, tweeting, hummingbirds
Make a fine day even finer.
My family’s Alabama farm was a certified Audubon Sanctuary. We didn’t just love birds and protect their habitats; birding was like breathing—literally a natural part of our daily lives.
Both of my parents were passionate, relentless teachers. After their children left the nest, they focused even more on teaching the birds who came to the sanctuary. Season after season, they taught the birds where to safely obtain food, water and shelter for nesting to nurture their bird families.
The birds were teachers for us as well. The study of birds, ornithology, wasn’t a passion for everyone in my family, but that was beside the point. Each of us was given opportunities to connect with the universe and every day the birds were teaching us the joy of being alive.
When I Googled symbols of joy for this year-long series of odes; sunbursts, flowers and birds, lots of birds, proliferated an array of images across my computer screen. Remember the bluebirds in Disney’s animated “Cinderella” that chirpily helped the heroine dress for the royal ball? Those were exquisite joy birds and not too fantastical to imagine in so-called “real life.”
Some birds joyfully sing as they construct elaborate, couture-worthy, feathered nests which ultimately look like grand hats. So, with a bit of time, joy birds could swath a princess in elegant frippery. Close your eyes and you can hear the whistling while they weave.
Studying joy birds inspires us to add happiness to our own lives. Dr. Sarah Woolley at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute is decoding what songbirds teach us about interpreting sound.
Birds are the only other animals whose brains share with ours the remarkable ability to learn vocal sounds. A young bird’s brain allows them to mimic the songs of their elders and they practice the tunes as in a master class until the musical notes are polished to opera singer perfection.
As a young child listens to a variety of words and tones, it shapes the way they speak their entire life. Heather Wolf, author of “Birding at the Bridge,” reminds us not all birdsong is melodic. “Ravens sound like frogs,” Wolf says. “So, if you hear a frog flying above you, look up.”
JOY BIRDS teach us many lessons. Using “The S.U.N.S. (Smile-Making, Uniting, Neighboring, Spellbinding) Joyful Aging System,” here is smart, bird brain thinking for humans:
SMILE-MAKING (Positive-Thinking and Positive-Doing)—When we’re at the beach, we see seagulls dive and dip for every little beetle and bread crumb. However, bird scientists report often the gulls are simply doing the aerial gymnastics because they find it pleasurable.
And, songbirds don’t just sing during mating season—they love to sing and just like a church choir or a community musical, they like to flock together and sing.
UNITING (Deeply connecting)—One of my favorite articles from the always delightful, “Audubon Magazine” was written by Michele Berger, titled “Till Death Do Them Part: 8 Birds That Mate for Life” (February, 2012). The faithful joy-givers mentioned are:
- BLACK VULTURES—”form such a tight bond, in fact, that they hang out year-round—not just through the mating season.”
- BALD EAGLES—symbols of the United States, have large homes (nests) about 6’ wide. Their elaborate mating dance is called a “Cartwheel Display” and involves joyfully inter-locking talons then twirling through the air.
- ALBATROSSES—don’t breed until they are eight or nine years old; if a mate dies, “they go through a year or two of mourning period”—this is according to John Klavitter, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- SWANS—Their divorce rate is less than 10%. If a mate dies, a female swan will find a mate in less than a month, but a male swan will nurture and defend his young cygnets, then perhaps re-mate the next winter.
- SCARLET MACAWS—exotic birds, regularly live to 75 years in captivity and 33 years in the wild. They are so devoted they help “groom” each other’s appearance by plucking bugs from feathers.
- WHOOPING CRANES—North America’s tallest birds, attract a mate for life by bowing their head as if praying and then rising up and bouncing on stiffened legs. (Yes, this sounds like actor, Tom Cruise, jumping up and down on Oprah’s sofa. YouTube it.)
- CALIFORNIA CONDORS—a highly endangered bird on the Audubon “Red List,” lives wherever the female chooses. Condors are scavengers and if they find a tasty carcass will bring it home to share with their mate.
- ATLANTIC PUFFINS—known as the “clowns of the sea” have a mating ritual called “billing” during which they rub beaks together all day like lovesick teenagers.
NEIGHBORING (Others-Centered)—Scientists at Oxford University (England) found that larger groups of birds are better than smaller groups at solving problems. It is believed this is because a larger gathering has some older, “experienced” members in their flock. (“Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” September, 2011)
SPELLBINDING (Meaningfully captivated)—You may not find it enticing to show up early for a worm, but birds teach us to show up and keep at it. Birds get “in the flow” and focus on the task of survival of the fittest they can be.
JOY BIRDS remind us to enjoy life and our own song. They show us the importance of protecting our young dreams and allowing great ideas to hatch. By their courageous example, we are taught to leave the nest, spread our wings and start flapping. Joy birds encourage us to have the confidence to soar.
WHAT KIND OF JOY BIRD ARE YOU? Here are some of the best-known birds and attributes we associate with them:
BLUEBIRD—happy, joyful, carefree but also hard-working
EAGLE—peace protector, self-starter
SPARROW—enthusiastic, remind us to enjoy life
HUMMINGBIRD—industrious, light-hearted, optimistic, independent
RAVEN—curious, fun-loving, full of mirth
ROBIN—rejuvenating, forward-thinking, hopeful
OWLS—wise, thoughtful, patient
DOVE—compassionate for suffering, peaceful
FLAMINGO—beauty and balance
CARDINAL—a sign that a loved one is near who is saying “I love you”
BLUE JAYS—fearless, truthful, talkative
SWAN—graceful and loyal
JOY BIRD ODES FROM OTHERS:
“Use what talents you possess. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”—Henry Van Dyke
“I hope flowers always line your path and sunshine lights your day; and songbirds serenade you every step along the way. May a rainbow run beside you in a sky that’s always blue, and happiness fill your heart each day your whole life through.”—a traditional toast
“Instead of weeping when a tragedy occurs in a songbird’s life, it sings away the grief. I believe we could well follow the pattern of our feathered friends.”—William Shakespeare
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”—Maya Angelou
“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”—Langston Hughes
“Be a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.”—Victor Hugo
“Tame birds sing of freedom. Wild birds fly.”—John Lennon
“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”—Salvador Dali
JOY BIRD LAFF OF THE WEEK
So, an elderly, nearly deaf lady dies and in her will, she gives her pet parrot to her Southern Baptist minister. Come to find out, the lady’s husband, also deceased, had taught the parrot to swear like a sailor.
The parrot could squawk curse words for five minutes without repeating himself.
The minister loved all God’s creatures but the bird’s, pardon the pun, foul mouth was driving him crazy.
One day, the pastor starts raging, grabs the parrot by the throat, tries to shake the devil out of him and yells—“JUST QUIT IT!” but this ticks the bird off and he swears more than ever.
Hearing those vulgar words, the reverend gets furious and says, “That’s it, I’m putting you away” and locks the parrot in the kitchen pantry.
This really ruffles the bird’s feathers and he claws and scratches the pantry door and knocks the canned goods off the shelves. When the fellow finally lets him out, the parrot cuts loose with a stream of obscenities that would make a veteran sailor blush.
At that point, the minister is so enraged he throws the parrot in the ice freezer.
For the first few seconds there was a terrible ruckus. The parrot kicks and claws and thrashes about. Then things suddenly go very quiet.
At first, the minister just waits, but then he starts to feel guilty and worries he may have harmed one of God’s blessed creatures. After a couple of minutes, he’s so worried he opens up the freezer door.
The parrot calmly climbs onto the pastor’s outstretched arms and says, “Pardon me, reverend, about all that trouble I gave you. I’ll do my best to clean up my vocabulary from now on.”
The minister is astounded. He has never seen such a transformation of a man nor a beast.
Then, the parrot gestures to the freezer, “By the way, what did that chicken do?”
JOY-GIVERS CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY THIS WEEK:
April 9—Elle Fanning
April 10—Alex Pettyfer
April 11—Bill Irwin
April 12—David Letterman
April 13—Al Green
April 14—Loretta Lynn
April 15—Bessie Smith
BIRD’S NEST COOKIES with GEORGIA PEACH SUGARFREE JAM
Each week, Joy & Gerontology shares a recipe saluting a healthy food produced in America. The delicious and nutritious collection is called “The S.U.N.S. USA Longevity Cookbook” and highlights vitamin B-3 (niacin) which many research gerontologists believe hold the promise for a long, healthy, joyful life.
1 ½ cups salted butter
¾ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 eggs, separated
Georgia Peach Sugar-Free Jam (sources online)
Sweetened dried coconut flakes
Walnuts, finely chopped
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- In a large bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer. Add the sugar gradually and mix well. Lightly whisk the egg yolks then add them to the bowl with the vanilla and flour mixing until thoroughly combined. Shape into walnut-sized balls
- Place egg whites in a shallow bowl and lightly whisk. Place nuts and coconut in separate bowls. First roll the balls of dough in the egg whites and then in either the nuts or coconut to coat. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet and dent in the center with a thimble or thumb.
- Bake in a pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. Quickly remove from the oven and re-dent the tops of the cookies. Return the cookies to the oven and continue cooking for about 8 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven to cool on a wire rack. Fill the “nest” centers with jam while still hot. Once cooled, store in an airtight container. Makes 40-60 cookies, depending on size.
1,070 JOY-GIVING THINGS FROM MY FIRST 70 YEARS (continued)
318. “Well-a bird, bird, bird, bird’s the word.” (Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen).
319. Throwing toast at “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
320. Mardi Gras in Mobile, AL, the first American city to celebrate.
322. Etta James coming out of retirement to shake her fine money-maker.
323. Hubba hubba.
324. “Tap your troubles away.”
325. Making chicken salad from chicken ____.
326. Lonesome. Phonesome.
327. “Gene, Gene, The Dancin’ Machine.”
328. The push-button gear shift on a 1957 Dodge.
329. Elvis’ golf cart with the fringe on top at Graceland.
330. Wandering the grounds of Mr. Faulkner’s “Rowan Oak” alone.
331. Winning some folding money at the Kentucky Derby.
332. “Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?”
333. “May the circle be unbroken.”
334. Shaved ice in August in the steamy French Quarter.
335. Chinese handcuffs reward for not crying at the dentist’s office.
336. The “Redneck Riviera” café that shot yeast rolls from a cannon across the dining room.
337. Laughing about a condom machine called “The Family Planning Center” in a Texaco restroom.
338. “You Make Me Wanna Walk Like a Camel” (Southern Culture on the Skids).
339. “Sweet Bird of Youth,” the 1959 play by Tennessee Williams.
HAPPY, JOYFUL, “FREE AS A BIRD” WEEK TO YOU!