Give me the old neighborhood

The red-headed woodpecker was another common bird. They made holes in dead limbs of giant cottonwood trees that stood along the street. The cottonwoods are gone and so are the red-headed woodpeckers. I didn’t see a flicker either, another common bird there when I was a boy.

I didn’t see a house sparrow in my old neighborhood. These birds, named English sparrow when I was learning the names of birds, made their messy nests on drain pipes around houses and under the roofs of garages wherever they could get in.

Not seeing the birds, I began to note other changes. The lack of cottonwood trees and American elms. The lawns, I noticed were all grass. When I was young they were a mixture of grass and dandelions and plantain and selfheal and clover. I recall seeing birds peck at the heads of dandelions. Without the cottonwoods with their dead limbs there were no woodpeckers. Without weeds in the grass there were no seeds for birds. The herbicides that were used, I’m sure, to get rid of the weeds also eliminated insects and worms further reducing the food for birds.

I didn’t see a blue jay or a black-capped chickadee or a white-breasted nuthatch in my old neighborhood either. Those birds and downy woodpeckers and house sparrows came to a feeder I had outside our dining room window and stocked in summer as well as winter. I didn’t see a bird feeder in the neighborhood.

I didn’t see a chimney swift. These little, scimitar-winged birds, sometimes called flying cigars because they appear most of the time to be tailless, were abundant in the air from dawn to dusk every day in summer except when it was raining. Their chittering as they darted erratically about overhead was an almost continuous sound of summer days. I can’t give a reason for the disappearance of chimney swifts except that there must be fewer insects in the air.

The houses of the neighborhood of my hometown, the streets, the power lines along the streets were the same as I remember they were when I was a boy. But the trees were different, lawns were different and there was a marked change in the bird life. There were fewer birds than I remember and fewer species.

I liked the old neighborhood the way it used to be with the giant cottonwoods, the weeds in the grass, with insects and grubs and worms. I liked the old neighborhood with more birds.

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