Killer Objects

If the fire alarm goes off in my building, I’ll grab my most precious possession and run. That’s Henry the West Highland Terrier, of course, the only other sentient being residing in my third-floor condo.

As for other objects in this art-filled overly-momentoed nine hundred square foot nest, nothing brings me more joy than two bird feeders sitting atop my bedroom air conditioner.  The concrete cactus planters are the latest in a long line of failed birdfeeders I’ve had over the years. Conventional see-through Audobon plastic houses that suction-cup to the window are handy. But they survive only until the next thirty mile an hour wind blows in from Lake Michigan. More than one has fallen onto a car roof in the driveway below, which is why birdfeeders are forbidden by condo rules.

The planters, formed by a smooth cement composite, have a one-inch lip—perfect for perching birds to tip into the bird seed, cracked corn and peanut bits. As soon as I open the window in front of my desk to pour feed into the troughs, a flock of plump house sparrows appear on the balcony. I’ve had rare visits from cardinals, orioles, crows and one glorious Downy Woodpecker.

My favorite these days is the black-capped chickadee. She appears alone, flits in for a bite and scrams. The chickadee is a tiny dark-headed bird with white cheeks. Her white underbelly is blushed with pale yellow feathers. I once thought I was going color-blind because when a chickadee lands, blue flashes in my mind’s eye. They are not blue. If that’s God’s way of making himself known, I’ll take it.

On December 3 at 1:14 pm I ruminated away from my worn-out keyboard just as a peregrine falcon fluttered into the flock of terrified sparrows feeding at the trough. Peregrines eat other birds. The sparrows escaped and the falcon sat there alone, surprised at where he’d found himself. His feathers looked new, like they’d not been used much. His head swiveled almost 180 degrees on his foot-long body. He eyeballed me with knife-like precision. I could see nothing else as he hopped onto the balcony railing. I tried to type a text about the sighting to a birder friend, without moving my hands or looking at the keyboard. The peregrine searched the neighborhood for about fifteen minutes before casting off into his urban jungle. 

A new TV series, “Earth at Night in Color,” includes a half-hour on Chicago’s infamous peregrine falcons. The raptor has decided high rise dwellings are as good as the cliffs where their ancestors lived. The peregrine is the fastest animal, bird or beast, in the world. It dive-bombs other birds at 200 miles per hour, killing them in midair.  Whenever I come across a dead pigeon I look to see if a peregrine is hovering overhead waiting to dine.

How glum to know now my little bird friends are bait. But my resolve to keep the feeders full has deepened.

A peregrine falcon screeches from a perch above the University Club of Chicago, on Monroe Street at South Michigan Avenue on July 1, 2014. (Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune)