Fowl Bawl

Is avian flu on the fly?

I'm an ornithologist. No, that doesn't mean I sleep with orthodontists. Well, once, but that was only to get my braces off six months early. It means I like birds. Not in thatway. Well, once, but that was only to get my braces off six months early. Damned kinky Dr. Waxler. I like to study birds, note the different species that I see. Most people find this behavior baffling, but then again, most people find the bulk of my behavior baffling. It's hard to keep tabs on a 25-year-old man who calls his parents to come pick him up in the middle of the night during sleepovers. Technically, one-night stands are sleepovers.

While there are many good birding spots in the metro area, I do the bulk of my fowl watching in City Park. Why there? Because it's right next to my house. Come on, did you think I was one of those crack-of-dawn types who likes to drive to the middle of nowhere to look at some obscure bird, always talking about when I was at Yale I did this, when I was at Yale I did that, hey Adam, didn't you get wait-listed there, wow, if only they had room you could have gotten in and wouldn't that have been fucking amazing, imagine where you would be today with a Yale degree, say, how's your sister the successful attorney doing?

You know the type.

Besides, there's plenty to see in City Park. You've got your standard Canada geese, your occasional Grey Lag geese, your slew of double-crested cormorants -- the same birds you'll find in the Galapagos, but because they have no predators there, they've evolved to the point that they don't have any wings. Here in Denver we have the flying kind, while halfway around the world they look the exact same except without wings!

But there's more! I've seen storks in City Park, I've seen herons in City Park, I've seen grebes and grackles and coots in City Park. I've seen a nest of Great Horned Owls, I've seen pelicans (I know they're sea dwellers, but I've seen them!), and once I even saw a pterodactyl. Turns out I was high and had wandered into the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. But still, I saw a pterodactyl in City Park!

And the other day, my friends, I saw two wild turkeys.

I'll allow you a moment to close your dropped jaw, to wipe the shock from your face, because it is indeed a shocking revelation -- but I swear on the Koran it is true. I was jogging along 17th Avenue when I saw two large birds in the distance. Interesting, I thought, but hey, geese often stray that far from the lake. As I got closer, I noticed the curious bobbing motion of the creatures' heads, and I realized these weren't geese at all. So I slowed my pace, crept up on them and deployed the standard Audubon Society-approved methods of identification: 1) Cluck wildly at the bird to try to induce hysteria; 2) Charge at the bird and try to force it into traffic to see how it reacts to vehicles; and 3) Sample resulting feces.

Check, check and check. These were turkeys.

"Look at these birds," I said to a passing female jogger. "Have you ever seen birds like this in this park? I mean, I think they're actually turkeys."

At the deafening sound of her rape whistle, both the turkeys and I scattered. So I put in a call to the Department of Parks and Recreation, because while I was certain they were turkeys, it's always nice to get confirmation. Parks told me I was a weirdo, and Rec said to leave them alone. I turned to the city's website, since surely Denver's visionary leaders would want confirmation of such a profound event. But shockingly, there was no help to be had. Instead, all I could find was hysterical rhetoric about the bird flu, panic, panic, run for the hills. The city now advises us to observe wildlife -- including wild birds -- from a distance, in order to protect ourselves from pathogens. But from a distance, there's no way to identify these turkeys. And how do you sample feces remotely?

As I pondered these issues, a grimmer concern took hold of me: If this bird flu ever hits, my birding days are over. If people start dying, surely the birds will be killed off, too.

A friend and I were enjoying a drink on a patio the other day, commenting on the brilliant, summer-like weather we've been experiencing and girding our systems against errant pathogens, and we decided that we should declare this the summer of something, to make it special. We kicked around the Summer of Happy Hour, but it was too bland, and we kicked around the Summer of Sam, but we lacked the fortitude. But then I related my tale of the turkeys and their impending doom, and boldly declared this to be the Summer of the Birds, a last-chance tribute to our marvelous avian friends. At that, my colleague excused himself and went to get another drink. Which wasn't an out-and-out refusal, and if flirting with women has taught me anything, it's that any response that isn't an out-and-out refusal can be considered a success. So let the turkeys be a harbinger of great birding things to come. Keep your eyes to the skies, Denver, the Summer of the Birds has officially begun.

Dr. Waxler should be ecstatic.

 
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