Doers: Black-headed grosbeak

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, March 23, 2014

A male grosbeak, still famished from its northbound migratory flight, sits perched in the 40-degree March sun. A cold wind gusts, and the medium-sized bird, gripping and tipping on its aspen branch, bursts into eight seconds of song-line. Then looks over.

MCW: [recognizing the very bird] It’s you! I was trying to get your attention at brunch the other day, and I didn’t think I had. You were busy eating sunflower seeds. Like, non-stop.

Grosbeak: [closes eyes] I LOVE those things. “Hungry” does not begin to do justice to my depletion after MG.

MCW: Migration?

GB: Yes. Anyway. The only thing I might like more is that nut mix you used to buy, back in the day.

MCW: Oh! You were at my house???

GB: Yes. Back in the day.

MCW: The nut mix is bit pricey. But if you liked it that much, maybe I could—

GB: I thought you were going to burn a hole through my left wing with that stare, though. I presume you have some questions for me — things maybe not even a hummingbird would know? [trills another 8-second round]

MCW: Oh, you read that interview? [blushes] You’re quite beautiful to behold, you know that? Cinnamon is the term I believe they use. And it fits.

GB: Sure, it fits. I guesssssss. But so would a lot of other more interesting color names. Roasted chestnut, for instance. Or frosted pumpkin. Or cinna-melon. Moroccan spice, colonial brick, fiery opal, dusty paintbrush, russet musings, sweet bourbon, brown brambles, antique rust. I could go on and on. “Cinnamon,” however, is all we ever get—

MCW: Oh. I guess I wasn’t thinking—

GB: [interrupting] And “black and white with a duo-toned beak.” And sings a “drunken robin’s” song. I mean, how would you like to be given one paragraph and always the same one? Oh, and we travel in grosses. How clever and mnemonic. Get it? And we’re one of just a few species that can eat — what? For the Daily Double.

MCW: Monarch butterflies.

GB: Ding, ding, ding. Because…

MCW: They’re poisonous and you all can somehow process the toxins.

GB: Correct! [simulating a yawn] It’s not just humans who are snowflakes, you know. So why not treat me like an individual instead of a representative? Ask me the interview questions everybody else on the planet gets.

MCW: Like, what do you like most about yourself and least? Who’s your favorite superhero? What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? What keeps you awake at night?

GB: Yeah, exactly. First off, I’d say, color me flaxen, because I’ve always loved that word and I think it describes my outlook. Favorite food is actually beetles, warmed by the sun at mid-day. Favorite beverage: raindrops in an unfurling leaf.

MCW: [flipping open reporter’s notebook] Go on.

GB: Favorite color, the bright blue of the sky. I always think that’s what powers my wings, the color blue. Favorite superhero, Mighty Mouse, don’t ask me why. Favorite place in town, well you know the exact birdfeeder because you were sitting right there when I showed up.

MCW: Its owner said you were the first grosbeak of the year. True statement?

GB: Could be. There were a few of us. I’m always one of the first. Color me competitive. Color me driven. [giggles] Color me hungrier than average. Color me sometimes a bit too loquacious. I’m really not allowed to say what keeps me awake at night.

MCW: [looks up] Oh?

GB: You’re not supposed to think of birds as worriers. We’re supposed to represent lightness and music and mystery. And poetry. Bird-land, you know — it’s quite exotic to those who cannot fly.

MCW: It is that.

GB: But, literally. We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. That’s all I’ll say. You didn’t hear that here, or from me. For all you know, birds have always been and will always be carefree and blithe. Even though our real job is to uplift humans and lord knows it’s not always easy. I will not say another word on that. [clears throat] Favorite song: “Let it Go” from Frozen. [whistles two bars] Favorite human thing: toss-up between balloons and umbrellas. Love. Them. Delightful inventions. Favorite water feature: dripping outdoor faucets. Favorite creature comfort: pine needles on a chill night.

MCW: Favorite thing about yourself?

GB: My ability to trill and think about other things at the same time. It’s like a Bach fugue! I know of no others boasting of this.

MCW: [laughs] Least favorite?

GB: My big fat beak. It gets me into a lot of trouble. [cracks seed, spits shell] But you didn’t hear that from me, though, right? Because you still think of me as a representative of—

MCW: Lightheartedness, music, and poetry. In Moroccan spice and black and white.

GB: [taking off] Bird-land salutes you! From the depths of its lighthearted heart-y heart heart! You know what I mean?

MCW: Yes, I do. Now, indeed I do.

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