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Updated 12:17pm - Sep 29, 2014

Home arrow Opinion arrow Columnists arrow Gopher Gulch arrow Gopher Gulch: 5 a.m. sound you must leave the city to hear

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Gopher Gulch: 5 a.m. sound you must leave the city to hear

Many years ago a young family came here from a far-away city. For the parents it meant coming home, but the small children had spent their lives in the city. They arrived in the middle of a soft June night and the kids were tucked into makeshift beds without ever waking.

A few very short hours later, at 5 a.m, a 3-year-old boy stood beside his parents’ bed, shaking his dad’s shoulder. He had a question that just couldn’t wait.

“What’s that squeaking?”

Sleepily, his dad tried to figure out what the kid was talking about. Squeaking? The first concern was that an appliance was choosing that moment to fall apart. It took several minutes to figure out what the little fellow was asking about, and I think of that incident every summer morning at 5 o’clock.

Being a city child, he’d never been in a place so quiet one heard the birds at dawn. He slept through garbage trucks and the banging of metal cans, the sound of air brakes on buses, sirens going off and horns honking. But birds starting the day, the trill of thrushes and the squawk of jays, was a brand new experience.

This is the season of the baby birds and if you haven’t taken the time to really watch them, you’re missing a great show. Even the flying pigs are fun to watch. They look just like the adults, so it’s behavior that tells you they're babies.

The pigeon leaves the top of a tree and makes for another about 50 yards away. If he moves quite slowly and flaps like crazy, you can be sure he’s just getting the hang of flight.

Baby black-headed grosbeaks are as big as their parents, but lack the bright coloring. They’re not happy about being on their own and they tell the world. As an adult bird comes near, the fledgling hunkers down, making himself as small as possible, lets his wing tips droop pitifully to touch the ground, tips his head back, opens his beak hopefully and cuts loose with a piercing, demanding “Feed me!” screech.

My favorite fledglings are the Stellar’s jays. Jays are show-offs, and baby jays are no exception. They make exaggerated swoops before landing on a grape stake, then flap wildly, teetering and hanging on for dear life. Sometimes they hang upside down before they get organized. On the ground they’re likely to skid to a showy stop — and fall over on their faces.

The fledglings are as large as their parents, but they often have gray, baby feathers on the breast before the bright blue ones come in. They forget they’re supposed to be adults now, and lay down in a peaceful, sunny spot on the grass, wings stretched to either side, soaking up the warmth.

And at 5 every summer morning I pull a pillow over my head hoping for a few extra minutes of sleep, and remember the “squeaking” incident.

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