The Weather

Ornithology

“The birds in Nicaragua aren’t watching cable news,” the ornithologist said.

“So they’ll migrate the same time as they always do?” I asked.

“Birds determine when to head north by the position of the sun. When they’re in Central America, they have no idea what the weather is in the continental U.S. So this March being one of the warmest Marches on record, they have no clue, and what’s more, they don’t care.”

The ornithologist was correct. The plant world flowered fantastically early this spring, but migrating warblers stuck to a travel schedule drawn up ten thousand years ago.

They’re migrating through Chicago now. On the stop sign at the end of my block, an interesting bird paused for a minute this morning. It was a bright blue indigo bunting, a small, pastoral symbol of goodness and rightness plunked in the midst of gray pavement. I watched a yellow warbler for a while in Jackson Park. And catbirds are back. They sing like mockingbirds, a little of this, a little of that. They’re like stubborn hipster musicians who don’t want their style pegged as belonging to a single genre.

Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.