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A pair of purple finch taught us that you can only experience the future by leaving the past behind.
A flutter of feathers at our birdfeeder, diving and dodging one another, demanded my attention. I looked out the window and scoured the flower beds and lawn to see if the neighbor's cat was disturbing our backyard sanctuary. But there was no sign of Mariah lurking about as I'd suspected.
As I continued to watch it grew obvious that Mr. and Mrs. Purple Finch were the cause of the commotion. They appeared to be having some sort of disagreement, over what I couldn't tell.
Finally they flew down and landed on the feeder. Both sat on the same side, he perched on one end and she on the other. Their quarrel mimicked that of an angry couple lying in bed on their sides, back to back, as close to the edge of the mattress as they can get without rolling off onto the floor.
The pair proceeded to eat, giving each other the silent treatment. Caught up in the familiar drama, I continued to watch from the kitchen window.
When my husband Loren came in from his workshop, he said, "What are you doing?"
"You won't believe this. A pair of purple finches are having a squabble."
"Oh, how can you tell that?" he said.
"Just look at them. It's obvious they're mad at each other."
My husband came and stood behind me, both of us captivated by our feathered friends acting like humans. "What could they be arguing about?" Loren said. "They're just birds."
"I don't know, maybe where to build a nest, or how many chicks to have."
They stood with their backs toward each other, tail to tail. The male stabbed at every seed with vigor, determined not to give in. Regardless of the fact they dined on the best wheat berries and sunflower chips, Mrs. Finch had lost her appetite. She picked at the seed like a child scrapping peas around on their plate with a fork.
Her brown feathered shoulders slumped over and her head hung low. Occasionally, she turned to see if he was watching her. But no, he focused on the feast before him, and ignored his mate. She picked a bit more, and then stole another glance. He paid no attention when she scooted toward his end of the feeder. She looked at him again, but he gave no response.
In a bold move, she stretched out her leg and slid closer. What courage, I thought, after such rejection. He looked up into her creamy brown face and dark brown eyes. His stubborn attitude softened. This time he made the move and stepped toward her. They exchanged soft peeps. Whatever they had argued about, they put behind them. All forgiven, side by side, they nuzzled each other and chattered away as birds do.
"I can't get over how much they act just like people," I said.
"No matter what species, the male and female always act the same," Loren said. "Women flash those sad eyes and the poor guy doesn't have a chance."
When the birds finished eating, they flew into the apple tree. They were unaware of our presence, but we'll never forget the powerful lesson they demonstrated in our backyard that day. During an argument it takes one partner to step toward the other and close the gap, to reach beyond hurt feelings and forgive.
**Note: Trouble in the Backyard appears with many other wonderful stories in the book, The Ultimate Bird Lover, released February 2010 by HCI publishing. This book is sure to delight the bird enthusiast on your list and can be ordered direct from the publisher at www.HCIbooks.com, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.
© 2010 Kathleen Kohler