Just Shelley

Birds squabble that’s what they do

The little girl ran into the small room that served as her mother’s home office. Her mother was typing away at the computer, intent on the screen, but that didn’t stop the girl from running up and grabbing hold of her mother’s hand.

“Mama! Mama! Come quick! Something’s wrong with the birds!” the girl cried out, tugging at her mother’s hand, trying to pull her towards the door.

The woman resisted at first, as she had work that needed doing. “Honey, there’s nothing wrong with the birds. The birds are fine.” But the little girl wouldn’t listen and kept tugging at her mother’s hand, calling out the same thing again and again, about “something wrong with the birds.”

The woman, by now bit alarmed by her daughter’s croes, allowed herself to be pulled to her feet, down the hallway, and to the front door.

“Look, Mama! Look at the birds!”

Looking out, the woman noticed that something must have pulled a bag of moldy bread from a garbage can somewhere and left most of the bread in the middle of the road in front of their house. Birds from all over had flocked to this unexpected feast, each trying to get its share.

There were tiny house finches, and morning doves, and an occasional flash of blue from the jays. There were also some chickadees and sparrows in the mix, and some pigeons of course, and in the midst of the flock that aggressor of the scavenger, a couple of seagulls had made their way to the feast.

All the birds were squabbling at each other in a deafening cacophony of sound. No wonder the little girl was alarmed—hearing this raucous noise and seeing the birds fighting among themselves. Rather than be concerned, though, the woman chuckled at the picture: at the seagulls threatening the smaller birds with their large, dangerous beaks but while their backs were turned the finches sneacked in and grabbed pieces, some half again as large as the tiny birds. The smaller birds’ greed was swiftly punished because much of what they stole was stolen in turn by the chickadees and the jays once the bread was safely away from the gulls. In the midst of all this, the morning doves and sparrows quietly pecked away at the crumbs scattered about from all the tugging and jostling.

The woman put her hand on her daughter’s head, and said, “Baby, there’s nothing wrong with the birds. They’re just fighting over some bread in the street.”

At that moment, one of the gulls pecked at a small finch, which managed to duck away from the bigger bird. The little girl pulled back a bit, imagining what would happen if the smaller bird had been hit.

“Mama, are you sure this is normal? What if that bigger bird hurt the little one?”

“Yes, I’m sure. If you’ll look real close, you’ll see that none of the birds are hurting any of the other birds. It’s just a lot of sound and fury is all. Birds do this when they flock around a bit of food.”

“They do?”

“Sure, it’s normal.”

“Shouldn’t we go out and stop them, though? Before someone gets hurt? If they’re fighting over food, I can give them my toast. If I told them I had some toast to share, would they stop squabbling?”

The woman was touched by her daughter’s offer. Kneeling down, she looked into her daughter’s face, into her trusting, young eyes. The woman was filled with a sudden fierce protectiveness. She hoped her daughter would never loose the ability to feel concerned for others when she grew up—even squabbling birds. To never lose the wonder of everyday events. Speaking softly she said, “Honey, if you threw out your toast, the birds would just squabble over it, too. Since you and I can’t speak bird, we have no way of telling them there’s plenty of food for them all.”

She brushed a strand of hair out of her daughter’s face, the same strand that persisted in escaping from the band holding her hair back. “No best to just let the birds be. They’ll eat the bread and once it’s gone, they’ll go their separate ways, no harm done to any of them.”

“Birds squabble, that’s all. That’s what they do.”

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