I have a love-hate relationship with birds. I don’t need an alarm clock or a rooster because every morning at daybreak on the roof overhead my sleeping chambers the crows convene, and a cacophony of blue jays and coveys of quail stage a track meet. It’s worse than if the heavyweight division of Weight Watchers wrestled contestants from The Biggest Loser directly above my head. I have conferred with roofing professionals about this problem, but they just suggest it’s because all the shingles and tar paper on my roof are worn down to bare wood. But what would you expect from shingle salesmen? I bought a pair of earplugs which were much cheaper, but even they didn’t do the job.

I don’t really love the birds who have targeted my car for aerial bombing practice either, but I’m told that birds pooping on your car is supposed to bring you good luck.

On the other hand, I like birds and consider myself a naturalist, a person who is very much interested in all aspects of nature. I think most ranchers are. I’ve met countless ranch women who can name every plant species on their ranch, and I’ve read diaries of women who could tell you when a certain doe had her baby, when a red fox took up residence under her home, when she splinted the leg of a bird with a popsicle stick, bottle-fed all manner of babies who lost their mothers and even made a pet out of a skunk. (Believe me, it’s very disconcerting to be in someone’s home and having a pet skunk jump in your lap.) While I haven’t gone so far as to adopt a skunk, I do take a lot of interest in birds, especially when 20 or more blackbirds convene on the wires, which always means it’s going to rain. (They’re much more accurate than the weather babe on TV.)

As a kid, we always had a yellow canary in a cage in our home, and people on long-distance telephone calls used to comment about the beautiful singing our canary performed whenever the phone rang. We also had 35 Rhode Island Red laying hens that I got along with fair enough, and I’ll never forget the time I hypnotized a couple dozen of them, so they were laying on the ground staring at a straight line I drew in the dirt right in front of their eyes. My favorite birds, though were two ducks we raised from babies that walked around like a couple of three-year-old kids wearing new rain galoshes and splashing in puddles for the first time. Those ducks were even funnier than the time a bunch of sparrows got drunk on cotoneaster berries and fell from the telephone line.

Fortunately, I live in a part of the world where a lot of looney birds and cuckoos reside. (Take that however you will.) I’ll give you an example. In California, where I reside, there are about 500 bird species, and during two weeks of the year, when bird watchers from all over the world come to add to their life lists, they routinely report seeing over 250 species in my area alone.

I really enjoy watching the bird-watchers every year. They all gather like birds of a feather with their expensive cameras, binoculars, tripods and spotting scopes and they run with all that equipment bouncing up and down when they hear that someone has spotted a new species. They’ll look at it for 20 minutes, arguing if it is a mallard or a grebe before they realize it’s a carved wooden duck sitting on top of the sign of the old bait shop.

Recently my wife and I were out walking and came upon a group of birders; all taking turns looking through a scope sitting on a tripod. I asked the man whose scope it was, “Have you found a new species to add to your life’s list?”

He said, “Go ahead; take a look.”

I tried to see a bird, but all I saw was a beautiful babe on the top deck of a yacht in the harbor who was cavorting around as if she was looking for the missing top half of her two-piece bathing suit.

I’m telling you, this bird watching grows on you after a while.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles