Karen Rivers

The Tiny Feet of Birds

Karen Rivers

Lately I’ve found myself paying a lot of attention to birds, not just the ones inside my house — we have four now — but the ones outside my window. For long periods, I sit at the table with my laptop open and I watch them go to and from my neighbour’s feeder, back and forth to the hummingbird food that hangs in the window, perching in the tree my son planted when we first moved in which now is taller than the house. It’s something about their tiny feet that squeezes my heart and I can’t explain what it is, with the birds or their tiny feet, or why I can’t stop watching them in lieu of getting my work done. I want to say there is a poem in it somewhere, in the miniature toes that curl around the perches, but I can’t find it, and anyway, as soon as I say “tiny feet”, my kids laugh at me.

But look at them! I say. They are just so perfect and small.

OK Mum, they say, and turn back to YouTube, making another mental mark in the column where they score my relative sanity on a daily basis.

Four birds, in case you are wondering, do make a flock. Once you have four budgies instead of a more normal number, such as one, your birds will engage in flocking behaviour. This is both adorable — when they all tuck in and nap at the same time, just after lunch, for example — and hair-raising, specifically when you are on an important call and they begin screaming at each other like toddlers fighting for the right like the yellow Teletubby best. Getting a flock of birds wasn’t a particularly active choice on my part, more a “giving in”, yet now I have them, and at times when I’m working, all four of them will be flying around my tiny dining room/office all at once, while the dog tries to jump up and catch them and I think, How did I get here?

It’s just so inexplicably astonishing how one day you’re a kid in second grade, wondering what you’ll be when you grow up, making a book-reading nook out of a box in the cloakroom, and the next minute, you’re writing books for a living with four colourful birds flying joyfully over your keyboard and it’s a miracle, like everything is when you stop to notice, like the way hummingbirds hover in the air in the shape of the cross, their tiny feet curled against them, their wings beating so fast they become invisible against the blue of the sky.

I’m trying to remember to be grateful for all of it as it goes racing by, this life. Sometimes it feels as though the only constants are the coming and going of the birds, the sound of their calls, the flapping of wings, the way it’s impossible not to stop everything when the hummingbirds come, to watch them feed and hover and to wonder at how lucky we are to be here.