Chris Johnson

Watching birds makes you feel young, but makes you seem very, very old

There are few things I like better than birdwatching in my backyard. For the three of you still reading this, I’ll elaborate.

When I was younger — like yesterday and all those days before that — I never imagined I’d ever be able to tell the difference between a chipping sparrow and a Carolina chickadee. Back then, the only birds I really cared about were the Atlanta Falcons and a two-piece Original Recipe. But I haven’t been to a KFC in years, and I almost never see an Atlanta Falcon in my backyard. Well, there was that one time back on Dec. 2.

“Matt Ryan? Why are you hiding in my backyard?”

“Have you seen the Ravens’ defensive line? No thank you!”

Behind my house are acres of forest and wetlands that can never be developed. If I look out my front door, it looks like just another subdivision. If I look out back, it looks like I live in a mountain hideaway. We’ve turned the hillside behind us into a mini-Callaway Gardens and bird sanctuary. Birdhouses, birdbaths and feeders abound. I’d rather watch the aerial show in my backyard than stare at a television or phone screen.

Yes, that sounds like something old folks would do. It must be a shock to you to realize that this vibrant, young-looking fellow is on the verge of being old folk. If birdwatching didn’t make me appear old enough, I usually do it from an old metal glider. If I just had “Hee Haw” on the back porch TV and yelled “You young’uns quit bothering them chickens!” every five minutes, you might mistake me for my late Great Uncle George.

Among our many birds are great horned owls, Carolina chickadees, ugly cowbirds, robins, finches, chipping sparrows, mourning doves, bluejays, hummingbirds, wild turkeys (the birds, not the whiskey), nuthatches, woodpeckers and … “What? Matt Ryan again? Don’t you have offseason workouts or something?”

One of the birds keeps building a nest on a shelf in my grilling shed, but I’ve yet to catch him in the act. I’ll simply throw away the nest, and it’ll return in a couple of days. I feel sorry for the bird because I know he’s arguing with his wifey bird over this.

“I’m telling you, honey, I spent all day building our nest, and it just up and disappeared.”

“I’ve got two eggs about to drop, I’m tired, my hormones are out of control, and you can’t remember where you parked the house?! I bet you were hangin’ around the birdbath with that trampy little chickadee. I knew I should have married a cardinal.”

Speaking of cardinals, that’s the most common bird in our backyard — the northern cardinal to be exact. I know they are northern cardinals because they don’t eat grits.

I like to name my birds, by the way. I’ve named the cardinals after St. Louis Cardinals. There’s Ozzie Smith, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Lou Brock and, well, you get the idea. We’ve got so many Cardinals that I’ve gotten way down the name list to current second baseman Kolten Wong. Of course, I don’t know any female St. Louis Cardinals, but Ozzie Smith and Dizzy Dean make a cute couple.

All this birdwatching doesn’t make me old, mind you. In fact, sometimes on the weekend I’ll play tropical music and drink margaritas while I glide and watch the birds. Sometimes I’ll watch until the sun goes down or the pink elephants charge up the hill and scare the birds away. I’m careful not to drink too much, though, because the buzzards keep circling overhead, and I know they’re just waiting for me to keel over.

What does make me old is the sounds my body makes when I rise from the glider — a lot of snappin’, cracklin’ and poppin’. Oh, and I guess it makes me old when I have to yell this:

“Dang it, Matt Ryan, quit botherin’ them chickens!”

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