205 University Ave. E


On birdwatching

The mix of birds found within the Greenline corridor temporarily peaks in spring and autumn as the seasonal migrants undertake their biannual transit along the Mississippi flyway. Their time spent in the urban landscape is typically brief. It’s a necessary respite more than a willful occupation that creates a short-term spike in species diversity in this otherwise depauperate landscape. These travelers provide a vivid contrast to the conspicuous, year-round residents: the house sparrows, crows, starlings, pigeons, and gulls that thrive within this ribbon of concrete and asphalt. Among the ranks of these scrappy city birds, there is a species that is often overlooked. It is a working bird, a prey species that tends to go unnoticed despite its ubiquity and familiarity. In an urban context, its presence is typically noted only through its breaded, or sauce laden remains – the chicken.

On foot:

If the pedestrian is distracted in step, the presence of the hen, though typically just its wing bones, will be realized through an audible cue. Once understood it’s a sound that triggers an immediate regret for one’s inattention. If given to introspection, or at least reflection, the greasy mark left on sidewalk and sole may as well stain one’s thoughts. For those who travel with their eyes fixed to the ground, it will be noted that the distribution of chicken bones increases in proportion to the proximity of their source. As there are three franchises in less than a five mile stretch, the recent uptick in frequency may be attributed to McDonald’s launch of their Mighty Wings promotion. Of course University Avenue is also home to a new Popeye’s franchise, two JJ’s locations, and numerous other purveyors of fowl.

On wings and flight:

1. Witnessed routinely: A blurred form jettisoned from the driver’s side window of a vehicle, immediately followed by a jerking left handed adjustment of the steering wheel. As this act is repeated, the observer will note that the vehicle veers in a serpentine pattern from left to the right and back to the left with each toss and subsequent correction. Through the recurrent arc of this jetsam, or the recognition of the object upon impact, one eventually identifies the conglomerate of sauce, batter, and bones as humeri, ulnae and radii, chewed clean and flung with an impertinent flip of the right hand. Traffic permitting, the crows and gulls move in to glean.

2. Scene: Sunday morning, 6:15 AM, the parking lot between the Midway Shopping Center and the Snelling branch of the American Bank. Despite the early hour, there are a surprising number of people about. Of course, they are in cars. Parked cars. Eating. The exit lane of the McDonald’s drive-in empties out a few dozen yards to the east. The cars are dispersed across a relatively small area of this otherwise vacant lot, leaving a two-to-three car sized buffer zone between vehicles. Other than the slight movement from within the vehicles, or the arrival of a newly parked diner, it’s a static and rather uninviting scene. Opposite the McDonald’s clientele there is a livelier dining drama unfolding as two seagulls fight over a morsel of drive-up refuse. In the quiet of the morning, the birds amount to little more than a distracting flurry of wings, squawks, and snapping beaks. The intrusion of a windblown McDonald’s bag interrupts the skirmish, causing the startled gulls to momentarily cede their ground and then, with renewed vigor, charge back into the contest. After a series of feints and attacks, the dingier of the two gulls lunges, claims the spoil, and takes flight. Spurning his noisy rival the victor banks, shits, and then passes low over my head. The hard-won prize is clearly visible, the batter-tipped bones of a chicken wing dangles from its beak. From this close flyover I recognize this gull as a veteran – the lower portion of his/her right leg is missing.

Following the lead of the one legged seagull, I too take my exit. As I glance back towards the audience of onlookers, I pause at the slick crunch of an unnoticed chicken bone underfoot.



Fox Sparrow – window strike
Wells Fargo Place, Cedar and W Seventh Streets

Within a few yards of the Fox Sparrow is a Sapsucker, a White Throated Sparrow, and a Nashville Warbler. Only the warbler survived the impact; it sits dazed in the sunlight. I, in turn, feel somewhat dazed in the sunlight as I watch the warbler and the occasional Sunday morning pedestrian pass without noticing the birds littering the sidewalk. After about forty-five minutes the warbler seems more alert so I nudge him with my finger. He looks directly at me, takes a couple of hops and then flies off. Watching that tiny flash of yellow disappear into the bright blue sky is akin to a small, albeit fleeting, victory. Something close to redemption.

Top: loading dock, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. …and from the parliament.