My time is 'cheep'

I slept in today. It was 10 minutes past the tufted titmouse before I migrated to the kitchen.

A friend gave me a singing-bird clock, the one orchestrated by The National Audubon Society. They aren't the only outfit making them, of course, but their warblers boast a certificate of authenticity, which is important when you're a nature know-nothing like me. With those $6.95 knockoffs, I might get a cricket masquerading as a house wren and wouldn't know the difference.

But I'm quickly learning. After just a few weeks of living 24-seven with the bird choir, I can already distinguish the squeaky pips of the northern mockingbird from the throaty buzz of the clothes dryer.

On the hour, everyone within earshot gets a birding lesson, and sometimes a bonus workout, too. For example, at exactly 4 p.m. last Tuesday, the belted kingfisher yapped in the kitchen about a foot from my sister's shoulder.

"What the devil is that? Who's making that chit-chit-chit?" she asked as she bolted off her perch and checked behind her.

I pointed to the clock. Memory spans are short, though, shorter than an hour. When the Canada goose honked, she flapped out of her chair again.

"Don't invite me back until it's time for the mute swans," she said grimly.

Those of us who live full time in the nest are beginning to adapt to and even enjoy the friendly wheets, whistles, and chirrups. In fact, I've decided that the birds are the perfect pets. No dirty bird cages, no feeding, no molting. They raise a ruckus only 24 minutes a day.

Even my husband, a city slicker at heart, is warming up to the warblers and fancies himself a bit of a birder. He came home from the bookstore with a field guide to birds under his wing. And when something went zzt-zzt-zzt in the kitchen, he smiled and looked downright smug.

"Let me guess," he said, closing his eyes so he couldn't cheat. "It's the black-capped chickadee," he crowed.

I moseyed over to the microwave and punched the door button. "Close. It's a singing wiener. Time for dinner."

It was inevitable that clocks would start interacting with us. "Interactive" is the moneymaking modus operandi of inanimate products today. Furbys talk back. Writing pens Yak Bak. There's even a talking scale to announce your weight like an all-points bulletin.

If a product can't go that extra mile and communicate with you, then it's not worth the computer chip it's printed on.

Singing-bird clocks are just the tip of the talking tickers. One mail-order catalog offers a howling-wolf clock for $19.95. The barnyard-animal clock has pigs, cows, and other critters to bleat and bray the hour. Dog lovers will go crazy for the barking-dog clock with 12 handsome species. And don't forget its counterpart, a meowing-cat clock.

But I'm content to mark the passing of time and ring in the millennium with the tweeters and twitterers on my singing-bird clock. I like the notion that I'm getting cozier with nature without ever leaving my city kitchen.

I'm no ornithologist yet, but I must brag a bit. If I'm ever hiking in the woods and hear a tufted titmouse, I guarantee you I'll now know that it's 10 o'clock.

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