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

Kyle Curtis

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.

13995341
The Del Norte Triplicate
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