The Bird Whisperer

This morning I woke up to the sound of blue jays squabbling and a downy woodpecker chipping away at the tree right outside my window.

From our vantage point from the second floor of our building, the lower branches of this tree are at eye level. This gives us front-row seats to daily performances by an impressive variety of birds. Some days are truly astounding, such as the time we all watched for half an hour or more as our resident osprey calmly devoured a fish on the nearest branch — a little gruesome perhaps, but very cool (see the picture in “The Usual Suspects” post). Other days are less dramatic but so charming. As I sit here now, for instance, I’m watching one of our resident anhingas (also described in “The Usual Suspects” post) melt into that tree,  black-and-white wing feathers blending so perfectly with the light and shadow on the branch that you wouldn’t see her even if I showed you a picture (I only saw her because she moved).

And as I sit here now, I can also hear the cry of a kvetcher bird, way off in the distance.

It makes me think back to that winter a couple of years ago when it got so cold that iguanas started falling out of the orange trees (I’m not making this up), and the Everglades got so inhospitable that all kinds of critters started making their way south, east, anywhere they could, really, to follow their food sources and maybe find a little more warmth somewhere. Well, that’s all well and good, setting aside for the moment the question of the climate change that contributes to these bizarre conditions. All well and good, that is, until the kvetcher birds moved in here. At night. Into the tree, right outside my window.

Kvetcher Bird in Tree

Kvetcher Bird in Tree (no, it’s not missing a leg, it’s just trying to keep warm)

What, you may ask, is a kvetcher bird? You may (or may not) know it as a limpkin (I didn’t — it took me 2 years to figure out what it was; they look kind of like a spotted brown ibis, and kind of like juveniles of about a dozen other species). But somehow the name “limpkin” just doesn’t do it justice. Some people call it the “crying bird” — more appropriate, IMHO — but the name Cynthia gave it, kvetcher bird, is best of all.

Now, understand that I have no particular problem with this bird. In fact, they can be quite entertaining, and even maybe kinda cute, if you like that sort of thing. Until one of them moves into your tree.

It may look innocent enough, but wait till you hear it. Just click on the picture for a sample of what it sounds like:

2011-01-24 LimpkinAtCondo 003

The Kvetcher Bird of Lake Fanshaw.

(if that doesn’t work, try pasting this into your browser:

Now imagine it’s 2:00 a.m. when that indescribable blood-curdling screaming starts up. Everyone in South Florida — and probably Cuba — comes wide awake, hearts pounding, what the HELL was THAT? Oh, that damn bird, right. Put pillow over head and try to get back to sleep.

Now how about 3:00 a.m? 3:05 … 3:22 … 3:48 … and the screaming is going on and on and on. All night. In fact, every night, for two solid months (I’m not making this up either). Some nights we couldn’t stand it anymore and even though it was cool enough to sleep with the sliding doors open, we’d close them and turn on the air conditioner and all the fans. And we could still hear it.

Polite inquiries about getting some nice wildlife-relocation person to come and take them back where they came from — or anywhere but here, really — were met with, oh no, can’t do that, they’re protected in Florida. I gather they were over-hunted at some point (can’t imagine why), and now we can’t interfere with them in any way, even when they’re clearly lost. They even sound like they’re pining for the Everglades.

So for two months, at 3:00 a.m. I’d be lying there wide awake, fantasizing about ways of, um, persuading that bird to decide to go elsewhere. Air cannons like they have at the vineyards around Niagara-on-the-Lake to keep the birds away from the grapes. BB-guns. Bazooka. Nukes. Anything to make the damn thing shut up.

Fast-forward to our arrival the following year in early December. No sign of they-who-shall-not-be-named-lest-they-hear-us-and-come-back — yet. We collectively held our breath for weeks, listening for that banshee cry. Nothing. The anticipation was killing me. It was almost worse than listening to them all night (almost).

And then one day, off in the distance … oh, no! There it was, ever so faint, but entirely unmistakable. My heart stopped.

But a couple of days went by, and they didn’t seem to be getting any closer. We heard rumours they were hanging out in the canals between our place and the Turnpike. Maybe it would be okay this year. Maybe they’d stay far enough away.

And then one fine evening, we came upon one of them just walking around — in the parking lot. Juuuust a little too close for comfort! We walked right up to it, and it just stared at us vacantly. Dumb as a doorknob, I figured — not enough brains to be afraid of people.

Turns out I was wrong. It’s not quite as dumb as it looks.

A couple of days later, Jack came up from the mailbox with a story of having found a Kvetcher (maybe the same one?) down by the mailboxes. There’s a little outdoor lobby, I’d call it, where there’s a bank of mailboxes, an elevator and a laundry room. So Jack’s humming along on the way to the mailboxes, he turns the corner, and suddenly he finds himself right between The Kvetcher and its only way out of the lobby. Hmm. Now what?

Well, Jack has always been able to keep a cool head while others around him lose theirs, so he sees this as a unique opportunity to have a Little Chat. I have no idea what was said, though I gather it was a rather one-sided conversation — evidently the bird was speechless, for once — and they appear to have reached an understanding.

Or so we thought. A couple of days after the Mailbox Accord, The Kvetcher or one of its relatives had the audacity to show up in the tree. Jack was having none of that. He put on his shoes and went out the door, made his way downstairs, and went around back to have another Little Chat. Well, The Kvetcher was in mid-sentence when he realized Jack was there, approaching the tree. Jack couldn’t have gotten closer than 30 feet away when the bird opened its wings and took flight. Left the branch, left the tree, left the lake. Left us alone.

Which brings us to today, with the Kvetchers off in the distance — not here. Coincidence? Or do they just know the Bird Whisperer is back?

Leave a comment


  1. shaina

     /  January 28, 2013

    love the story… love that I can picture every angle and nuance 🙂 …. LOVE LOVE LOVE Cynthia’s inspired moniker for the bird! Have fun down south y’all 🙂

  2. Joni

     /  January 28, 2013

    Nothing like a warm and humourous story about birdwatching to guide me to a happy, serene state of mind! And you write the way you talk, with little asides and emphasis here and there, so it’s a chance to get to “hear” you talk, too!
    I’m dying to know what Jack said to the kvecher at the mailboxes……!!
    X O

  3. Charlene

     /  February 3, 2013

    who you gonna call….kvetcher buster!


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