Columns 2009

Our big, wild life

We call him Kodi because he came from Kodiak Island. He’s a Northwestern crow, one of the stars of Bird TLC’s education program. And this Saturday night, if you head over to the Captain Cook Hotel, you’ll be able to see him doing what he does best – accepting cash from all donors to help pay for his fellow birds when they are sick and injured. Hand him a bill – preferably a large one – and he will drop it in the cash jar at his feet. Hand him a worm after that and he will love you forever. 

Bird TLC focuses on releasing healed birds back to their natural habitat.  When that’s not possible, they do their best to place them in an educational program where they can be goodwill ambassadors from their species to ours.  As our world becomes increasingly more urban, birds like Kodi become more and more important because they are sometimes the only contact city dwellers will have with the wild that surrounds them. 

In a wonderful book called The Life of the Skies by Jonathan Rosen, the author refers to the migration of birds through Central Park in Manhattan each year. Rosen muses about whether or not most denizens of that incredibly urban island wouldn’t flock to watch a migration of wildebeest or caribou that annually made its way through their city. Yet this awe inspiring migration of birds, some from as far away as South America, passes almost unnoticed except for those devoted birders willing to risk stepping on the occasional crack vial in Central Park to watch it happen.

The point is that birds are the last piece of the wild that still exists for most city folk.  While I realize that Anchorites like to think that so long as moose and bear wander our streets, we can’t be considered totally urban, most of us who live here don’t regularly experience the wild, except for the birds.

Seeing an eagle soaring in the sky, looking for dinner – whether it be a spawning salmon or your little pet dog looking much too vulnerable – is seeing nature up close, raw and wild.  Watching flocks of Bohemian Waxwings land on a tree and strip it of its betties, then take off as though at some invisible signal to fly as one group to the next tree, can be breathtaking.

Not all birds managed to figure out how to survive as human civilization encroached on their world. Their extinction through over hunting or habitat destruction can’t be reversed.  So the homing pigeon and the Carolina parakeet are gone forever, though the ivory-billed woodpecker may have fooled us all and managed to eke out a survival deep in the marshes and everglades of America’s southeast. 

For those birds that did survive and thrive amidst man’s construction and destruction, the world they bring to our doorstep is a world we only rarely glimpse as we go through out day with our cell phones and Twitters and texting.  We’re too busy to notice them until the persistent song of a redpoll or the rapid darting of a chickadee forces our faces away from a glowing screen and up towards a wondrous sky.

People who volunteer at Bird TLC do it for a lot of reasons, primarily out of a sense of awe and wonder at the wildlife that manages to still fill our skies despite all the artificiality we’ve introduced into this world. They want to help injured birds return to those skies. For birds like Kodi who can’t return to nature, the hope is that by being goodwill ambassadors for their species, they can bring their world a little closer to ours.

So stop by the Captain Cook on Saturday night. Come say hi to Kodi and all the ed birds that will give up their Saturday night in front of a good video to bring a piece of Anchorage’s big, wild life to you. If you’ve never been up close and personal with a golden eagle or a bald eagle or maybe even an osprey, I can promise you that you won’t be disappointed.  You might even find the wild inside of you responding to the wild inside of them.