“hope is the thing with feathers”

I am sure you’re familiar with Emily Dickinson’s beautiful extended metaphor and I hope you’ll be forgiving as I personalize it in the most literal sense. I’m writing about a bird.

But this isn’t an ordinary bird, in my estimation, and come to find out he has quite a history.

But first…

I’ve been absent my blogging rituals of late. I’ll start with the fact that all is well. All is very well, to be more accurate. But starting sometime in December both Jay and I had health-related issues that needed attention, and for a couple of months we simply had to “go with the flow.” I don’t do that very well when I’m stressed.

I shut down as a form of conservation. All of my energy goes into self-protection, and by that, I typically find as much quiet space as possible. In our mild winter climate I was able to spend a good portion of most days outdoors. My garden space is peaceful, and that’s welcoming.

Most mornings I sit with my cup of tea and have my prayer and meditation time for as long as I need, and over a few stressful months these times were important to me in keeping me centered. 

And then one day in early March I heard the familiar song.

This seasonal visitor is the male of a pair of Red-Whiskered bulbuls who yearly visit the pineapple guava bush, now tree, next door. On occasion we are visited by more than the pair, but so far this year I’ve only seen mama and papa as they investigate the nest, still there, they used last year to raise two little chicks.

Hearing the song and then watching their activity brought me joy!

But I mentioned they have a history.

In trying to find out more about these beautiful birds I discovered a Los Angeles Times article published in 1985, referencing that the Bulbul had first been sighted at the Huntington Library’s Botanical Garden in 1968, and that it hadn’t ventured far from that habitat.

Eating from the pineapple guava bush

Indigenous to China and Southeast Asia, the theory was these birds were likely shipped or carried from other countries and escaped private aviaries. But they eat fruit and berries and are considered an invasive species, with the agriculture department declaring them a pest, and in the late 1960’s state and county officials were using pellet guns to kill the birds “on orders from the state Department of Food and Agriculture and the Los Angeles County agricultural commission.”


On the “Wanted” list

“In 1968 five bulbuls were sighted in the Huntington Gardens, five were shot, and we thought the problem was over. We’ve been working on this pretty consistently for the better part of 20 years.” In that period of time 168 bulbuls were exterminated, according to Richard Wrightman, supervising agricultural inspector for the county, heading up the bulbul eradication effort.

All of this madness and mayhem taking place only about two miles from my home. I’m glad to know some escaped to go on, reproduce, and live to eat my guavas.

Eventually the eradication program was forfeited, although the article did say some ornithologists were in agreement with the decision to eliminate them. I don’t have enough knowledge to determine whether or not some 50 years later there would be a different perspective, but because I love this little bird I’m just glad to know there were some escapees.

So maybe you can understand why dear Emily’s words came to my mind the day the bulbuls showed up mid-March. They really did bring me joy, which carried forward into hope that our temporary gloom would pass. And it did.

Bulbuls are dependent upon exotic fruit, which is why the our neighbor’s guava bush is integral. Our neighbors are kind people, but their gardening habits at best might be filed under “mercurial.” One day we heard the chain saw and I think Jay and I frightened the gentleman as he was about to attack the guava bush. It’s the size of a tree at this point. But we pleaded with him to “spare that tree!”

In advance of a potential disaster, this year we planted two new guava bushes, a fraction of the size we would expect to attract the birds, but we’ll do what we can.

Article reference:

Los Angeles Times December 29, 1985, Mary Barber, “Bird Wins Reprieve in Battle of the Bulbul.”