A few cheeps can change an attitude

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2001

The day began on a sour note. Coffee aroma seemed particularly strong as we entered the kitchen, and soon it was evident why. The small glass knob on the percolator top had blown like a champagne cork.

This popping did not make us feel celebratory, however.

Coffee and coffee grounds had spewed across the counter and down onto the floor.

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Sponging and swabbing, I felt the need to grumble. Then noise outside diverted my attention.

The familiar cheep of robins drew me to the window, and there they were in their annual feeding at the deciduous holly.

Frowns about coffee stains dissolved into smiles. How easily a harbinger of spring can change a mood, especially the chatty robins.

I began to imagine the long trek they had made before arriving in Natchez. From the south, maybe as far as Mexico, they begin traveling northward to their nesting ground as the days get longer.

Sometimes they travel as far as 40 miles a day, these plump birds with beady eyes.

Perhaps the conversation went something like this as they neared Natchez, the leader of the flock taking charge and sending out the troops for foraging.

&uot;OK, you rust-bellies in Division Five, you head to the Gandy yard. Group A, you take the holly; Group B, you go for the cherry laurels.

&uot;Let’s be in and out of there in two days flat so we can move on to Tennessee.&uot;

Indeed, in about two days the berries all but disappeared except for the ones on small limbs the fat robins were too heavy to manipulate.

The arrival of robins every year is as thrilling as the first crocus or snowbell. Their trip northward provides anticipation that only thoughts of spring can elicit.

Migratory birds have amazing capacity. Yet the robins, though incredible in their journeying, are not among the birds who travel the longest distances each year.

Those who travel farther might include the popular purple martins and the tiny hummingbirds.

We read big stories about the strides made by man in technology, about tiny chips that hold an astonishing amount of information in our computers and other electronic equipment.

Birds have exhibited that kind of technology for millennia, their tiny brains triggered by tiny chips somewhere perhaps in the pituitary glands letting them know travel time is nigh.

Some other mysterious mechanism guides their flights the thousands of miles they travel each year.

Scientists who have studied bird migration have concluded that the winged creatures may depend on star patterns for guidance or maybe on the coastline or other natural landmarks.

Whatever the case, we have to wonder whether labeling a person a &uot;birdbrain&uot; shouldn’t be a compliment rather than an insult.

Surely birds have varying levels of impressive capabilities. Some, in fact, do seem particularly small-brained at times.

One thing about the robins is evident. They make some difficult decisions.

Each year a few of the old guys and gals decide this may be their last season. They know their tired old wings just can’t make it back to Maryland.

They stick around for the spring and summer, knowing the worms will be plentiful in the Natchez yard they have chosen as their final resting ground.

Alone for their last days, the old robins make few cheeps, but their quiet dignity sounds a sweet note.

That’s lucky for us.

Joan Gandy is special projects director of The Democrat. She can be reached at (601) 445-3549 or by e-mail at joan.gandy@natchezdemocrat.com.