Affinity For Birds

I've always had an affinity for birds.

When I was little I used to watch them out our dining room window alongside our cats. Their brightly patterned heads jerkily twisted as they picked up millet and seeds with their beaks; cracking and consuming.

I wished I could be so brightly patterned.

I filled their feeders when I grew older, watching their thankful forms flit past me as the seeds poured through hollow tubes of plastic. Some days I presented them with bread that had passed its expiration date, a special treat for my joyful avian friends.

I wished I could be so joyful.

As I got older there was a feeling of alienation I couldn't quite pin down. I was the child of Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so, a happy family on paper: well supported and provided for; and yet... My brothers and sister had their friends, formed cliches and clubs of moderate popularity. I, on the other hand, befriended a few other folks drifting on the outskirts, strangers to each other and ourselves, our commonality being that we lacked commonality with the more “well-adjusted.”

More than the maladjusted though I had my old friends and confidents at the bird feeders and in the nearby park. Though they could not understand my words, they understood me better than any human.

Those acquaintances, our council of outsiders, broke apart as we left school. A few joined the ranks of the eccentrics, those who provide enough value to our governing systems for their oddness to be glorified. A few others turned to violence against others or against the self, their reasons varied and often inscrutable even to fellow strangers. Most of us though continued on our own paths; entrusted to our own recognizance and without the shared space of a school room to speak our strangeness in a circle, we set out on our lonely roads to find our own patches at the edges of society. Some literally, some merely metaphorically. I didn't move far.

I couldn't leave my friends, my true friends, who flew down from their trees and statues when they saw me coming. Who had now taken to perching on my arms and shoulders as I distributed bread. Who whispered slowly realized truths in my ears as thanks for my patronage.

They tell me there are other ones like me in their world, odd birds among a brood. Their eggs are noticeably different than the others and they grow faster that their brothers and sisters. Larger. Stranger. They are brood parasites, eggs left by another bird to be raised. But still their new parents raise them, even knowing that they're odd.

Not because they're kindhearted, but because of what happens if the egg or child disappears.

I researched what they'd told me later and found it was mostly true. They've done studies. If a bird leaves the odd egg alone and raises it as their own then eventually the odd child leaves the nest and life goes on. If they try to remove it though, the bird who left it there for them to raise comes back. They monitor where they dropped their eggs and if their progeny disappear all of a sudden then they get nasty. They destroy the nest and everything in it.

It's better for all involved to leave the egg alone. Sure sometimes the brood parasite demands too much food for its foster siblings to get any or straight out kills them, but destruction is assured if the outsider is cast out. It's a calculated risk. Raise them until they realize what they are and they'll leave on their own, leaving your precious brood of normalcy alone and alive.

I've always had an affinity for birds.

I've always wondered why I don't share the features of my mother or father or siblings. I've always wondered why my nails are so much sharper than theirs, why I was taller than the rest of them at fifteen, why I've only once seen another person with my eye color. The knowledge accumulates over the years, the differences add up. The pained looks hiding behind the facades of happiness, the inability for us to truly understand one another, the relief when I finally left the house even if it was only for an apartment a few blocks away.

It struck me as odd for a moment that we could live so close and yet see so little of each other. Then it struck me as odd to think that was odd. They had raised me, but we were not the same. They had done their part and were now rid of me, and we both were glad for that.

There was another kid, a boy I'd met when I was very young. He had those same eyes of yellow with red flecks that I did. We played together in the sand, happily from what I can remember, crows hopping on the timber edges of the sandbox and watching us. Our parents spoke in hushed voices nearby, casting worried looks in our direction.

He went missing a few weeks later.

I'd managed to find old newspaper articles archived online detailing the whole thing. Jonas Traynor, four years old, had wondered off into the woods one night and was never found again. A tragedy by itself the columnists agreed, but it was not to be the only one. The Traynor family house burnt down a few days later. All perished. Foul play was suspected but never proven.

An ugly necessity, but I know I'd do the same.

I wonder how long a cowbird chick thinks it's a sparrow or a cuckoo chick a crow?

At some point they know. Something in their head just clicks and they realize that they've been raised by fearful nest-builders, that their family isn't really their family. They come to understand that they must do the same thing, perpetuate the cycle of hoax and fraud so their species can live.

It's in our blood and our brains. I've accepted all this. I'll someday force a broodling onto a family and they'll know by the color of my eyes, by the way the air ripples as I make them swear their oath, by the cold terror lurking in the primitive parts of their brains that taking in the odd one is a better choice than rejecting it.

We don't ask much, we don't hate the humans; we just see their place better than they do. They stare at at the stars or scrutinize books; chattering with each other endlessly to try and understand where they fall in the universe. Whereas my sort see it so clearly right in front of our noses, the microcosm of the cosmos laid out neatly in the movements of birds.

I've always had an affinity for birds.