Winter Lodgings For Talkative Birds

HOW often have I heard someone say derisively, ``That's for the birds!'' Now I ask myself, ``What's for the birds today?''

It all began when a homeless mother peacock and her brood of four appeared upon my half-acre lot in Paradise Valley, Las Vegas, Nev.

I learned that some neighbors had suddenly left the state and abandoned their peacocks. That was when they chose my walled and fenced lot and nested in my trees at night.

Naturally, I fed the family.

Shortly after their debut, a pair of male and female wild ducks landed in a frog pond I had built and made it their home.

By the end of spring, eight ducklings appeared from seemingly nowhere, guided by their mother until they were able to romp in the pond.

Naturally, I fed them.

Doves and other species of wild birds that had visited now and then adopted the grounds and gleaned from the peacock and duck menus.

Then the ducks matured, made occasional flights elsewhere, and brought home their friends. Coincidentally, a lone roadrunner joined the flocks and harmoniously dined with them.

My home became a bird land, and my daily schedule experienced a major change; I became the provider and sustainer of the aviary.

As a retired teacher in the University of Nevada System, I decided to become a student again - of bird talk.

While the roadrunner remained silent and frisky, the little birds chirped and sang, and the ducks quacked in open conversation.

Three quacks sounded like ``hello there!'' A series of five quacks suggested excitement during their flotilla play. Additional quacks signaled all 16 occupants of my pond to start ``talking'' like patrons all ordering their food at once to the consternation of their waiter - me.

With the peacocks, a ``knack knack'' was to alert my attention; repeated, it clearly meant, ``I'm talking, listen.'' Three or more knacks, interspersed with ``whee'' sounds and ``elp'' screeches, suggested a mating call.

Their silent body language was show time.

The peacocks didn't just walk but, with tails spread upward and necks stretched forward, they sauntered on stage. At sundown, the mother matriarch quietly flew up to a chosen tree branch while her young followed in imitation.

During the days, they left feathers from their multi-colored regalia around the grounds - a trade-off for their lodgings.

I tried to imitate their ``knacks,'' ``clucks,'' and ``elps,'' but while they paused to appraise my efforts, they did not seem to consider them credible. They paused and marched away.

My half-acre plot was graced with an erie chorus of resonating bird sounds - wildlife enjoying its self-imposed domestication... while I enjoyed my own.

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