Posted by: Memorizing Nature | August 15, 2010

The Bird She Became

They say you can be anything you want if you work hard, and she wanted to be a different species. A bird, in fact. 

The book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, had inspired her since she was a child. She desired more freedom. She yearned to be carried on wind currents, to jeer at the gravity-serfs below. If only she could sing sweetly at dawn.

Determined to get what she wanted, she studied.

Laboriously, she pored over photos so that she could discern the differences between males and females. She enrolled in a piloting course and was awarded a license. Finally, she filled out the complicated application. The cosmic officials sent her an email with the subject line, “Rejection.” Each morning she awoke with arms and fingers, and every night she resented the clouds.

Desperate, she visited the bank and cashed in her retirement investments. She offered a bribe to a person in the data-entry department who promised to forge an acceptance. But he couldn’t guarantee what type of bird she would be.   

For many days afterward she stayed human. Disappointed, she resented her boring, difficult life. But then, suddenly, she found herself in a hole of a log, feeling cushy and very different. Her wish was granted, albeit illegally. It was too dark to figure out what type of bird she had become. She hoped to be a lofty hawk, ruler of the sky. Or a red-headed woodpecker, perfectly comical and pounding against the world. Maybe she had transmuted into a crazy, delicate hummingbird; that would be the ultimate gift.   

When the sun rose, she sailed to the top of a maple tree, and noticed she was among other birds busily hovering in air and catching budworms. Or they were hanging upside down on branches, their pencil-tip beaks actively nibbling caterpillars. (There was a downside to all this – the diet). They wore black caps and black bibs and had white cheeks, and blurted out a cheery song with which she was familiar. Chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Chick-a-dee-dee-dee.

"If only she could sing sweetly at dawn." (Photo by E. Medline)

She examined her own round breast, her fine feathers, her handle-like tail. Alright, she was a chickadee. Not the greatest result. She wondered why she had to become a member of the tit family, for goodness sake. A common chickadee, with their absence of grandeur, their lack of bright colour! Grey, white, black and brown. Lame.

Never mind, she thought. I’m not a hawk or a woodpecker or a hummingbird. But still, I can fly, I’m a songbird, people love us, and that’s something.

“Hello, feathered friends,” she whistled to her new flock mates. They stared at her with enmity, scolding her in song. When she explained she was a human transformed, they laughed and made fun of her weird accent. So much for singing sweetly – apparently she sounded like a frog in heat. This was a strict hierarchy, a literal pecking order. No wonder she was later delegated to slumber in low spruce, rather than inside the highest of the dead pines, a palace reserved for the most aggressive member.  

It was a life of drudgery. Every waking moment she spent searching for seeds and insect larvae, storing them under lichen and bark for the cold months ahead. She made mental notes of where each of her caches was hidden. Man, I’m going to need a good memory, she thought. Before long, the mornings began to frost over. Her temperature dropped, to conserve energy at night. She fluffed up her feathers to create an insulated space between her body and the cold air. Shivering constantly, she envied the geese who dared to migrate.

When she sought supper beyond the woods, the air tasted of pesticides. Once, she spotted a bird feeder, but the humans had forgotten to fill it. Let’s not even mention the time she had to duck a pygmy owl. Why didn’t she ask to be a lion? But at this point, her poorly researched choice wasn’t worth regretting. She would not be allowed to go back to her human form; that was the deal.

"Wait, a chickadee she had never noticed before joined her at the sumac." (Photo by E. Medline)

Finally, just when she was ready to let herself be sacrificed as some cat’s trophy, she discovered a true find – a cluster of sumac berries. She stayed there alone for awhile, thinking, deciding. She would make this thing work. She would start over in her chickadee life, find a new forest, rise up the hierarchical ladder, not be lonely anymore . . . after all, Jonathan Livingston would not be so deterred.

Wait, a chickadee she had never noticed before joined her at the sumac. He was chanting to her – a definite mating call. He had the seasons wrong, but hey. She tried to smile, and realized that wasn’t at all possible without lips. Reluctant to open her beak and croon out-of-tune, she threw him an exaggerated wink instead.



  1. I do have lips and I am smiling after that little tit bit! Special… again.

    • Marion, you and I must have the same sense of humour. I was going to somehow use that line in the title, but thought better of it.

  2. So much research, so much information. Not only interesting but well written also. How do you get those pictures?

    • The great thing about digital cameras is that you can take a hundred photos and one of them is bound to be decent:)

  3. You are so incredibly talented. Love this story.

  4. oh what a wonderful story! I was walking through the woods today with a whole flock of coal tits and blue tits in the trees above, so i can imagine your story particularly well

    • The woods must have been loud. My favourite bird is an indigo bunting (brilliantly blue), which we spot about three times a year. It’s migratory.

  5. Great story. You should definitely quit your day job!!

  6. I loved this story, the aspiration to be a bird and then the discovery that she was “only” a chickadee. I have loved these game little birds from the time I was 7 and got to know them when we lived in the mountains of Colorado. They completely won my heart when I lived in Fairbanks, AK, where the boreal chickadees stayed all winter. I was completely amazed at the braveness of these little birds, coming to my feeder when it was 45 degrees below zero.

    Wonderful story, wonderful photos.

    I know I am always putting links to my blog here, but I am positive you would like this post:

    • Healing Magic Hands, I really, really enjoyed your chickadee post, especially the part about the sunflower seeds in the spring. People, check out the link.

  7. Love your imaginative story.

  8. Chickadees are underrated! Yes- they are everywhere. But they are still enjoyable to watch, and I will never tire of their call. Nice story.

  9. I love the chickadees. Wonderful story and post.

  10. Elaine, I truly loved your story. Not only for the fairy tale nature of it, but all the facts about Chickadees make it really believable.

    I had many, many dreams of flying when I was a child and I still wish I could fly. I don’t think I would want to be a bird however. As you have noted, constantly searching for food and shelter and avoiding predators doesn’t sound much like fun to me.

  11. Interesting story nice photos.

  12. What a wonderful story Elaine! When is the book coming out? heehee

  13. They may be small birds, but I always enjoy them. Nice words to go along with your photos.

  14. Birders are the best bloggers!

  15. What a sweet story. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  16. thanks for sharing that nice story. 🙂

  17. Beautiful. Thank you 🙂

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