A newly arrived Tampa Bay area resident once told me she was finding herself chronically late to work. The birds, she said. Do you people not see the birds?
My Not-From-Here friend had heard all about our beaches and Busch Gardens, but no one schooled her on another very cool perk: the herons, hawks, owls, woodpeckers, spoonbills, jays and assorted others that can turn a neighborhood or a daily commute into your own personal aviary.
Depending on where you live and where you look, you can see brown pelicans and elegant white ones. You can spot flocks of bright green chattering parakeets, and on a really good day, a wood stork or two, as strange and interesting a creature as exists in the world. From the Sunshine Skyway to Tampa's Davis Islands bridge, you can watch fierce-looking osprey carrying off fresh-fish lunches in their talons.
And if you're really living right, an eagle now and then.
But this is America, where we are unmatched in our ability to take for granted even the coolest of nature we've got going, expert at killing off this and paving over that. Then we wonder: How come everything looks so dull and similar, and didn't this place used to be nice once upon a time?
Here's the latest in truly backward when it comes to appreciating what's in the world around us: For the first time in nearly 90 years, our neighbors in Kentucky are being allowed to shoot and kill the sandhill cranes that migrate between Canada and Florida, as in, here. There's a bag limit, and the government says it's A-okay, and hey, a handful of other states hunt cranes, though not east of the Mississippi.
So the big bad Kentucky hunters get to kill off 400 of the tall, slender-necked birds through mid-January, and if it's as much fun as it sounds, do it again next year, too. Add this to the long list of Things I Do Not Understand, right up there with how hazing can be a "fun" college experience or any TV show that starts off with The Real Housewives of.
Yes, I know nice people who hunt. They say it's good sport, primal and exciting and away from the world. But sandhill cranes? Seriously?
In a news story on the Great Kentucky Crane Harvest, hunters called them a wary, challenging prey, as if they were playing chess with them instead of shooting them dead. So: Trying to get away from a big human and his big gun makes a creature "wary" and "challenging?" I bet they're "stealthy," "wily" and "cunning," too.
They also called sandhill cranes good eatin'. Other words that come to mind: Sad. And: What a waste.
Here in Florida, if you are a fan of birds, maybe you have a favorite. My science teacher sister favors the turkey vultures that arc the sky and strut around like cranky old men on the ground, efficiently taking care of anything dead we happen to have lying around. I prefer the ibis and its ingeniously curved beak, though the oystercatcher comes a close second. I should add that none appear to be either wary or challenging.
Our year-round Florida sandhill cranes, slightly smaller than those being hunted in Kentucky, are protected. But this is not a thing to take for granted, any more than the great oaks that are now ghosts where strip malls stand.
How about this for a bird call: Not here, not ever.