December 24, 2012

The dark-eyed junco.

I didn't have the presence of mind to grab the camera and take a picture of the globular gray bird with a white belly, perched on the deck railing just beyond the glass. Instead I scrambled for my glasses, and the bird flew away. But we remembered how it looked, and Meade figured out it was dark-eyed junco, and googling, I found lots of photos but what I liked best was this lovely illustration and story.
The junco was not so much flying in to the window as it was flying right up against it. It would fly up and down the window's length, using its claws to aid in climbing. All the while it peered at us. It did this repeatedly. Various hypotheses were tossed about as to why a junco was engaging in this risky, precious energy expending behavior....
Dark-eyed juncos are "the 'snowbirds' of the middle latitudes." Of the middle latitudes? That makes me look up "snowbird" in the OED. Snowbird... I just think of that cornball Anne Murray song. But the OED says a "snow-bird" is "One or other of various small European or American birds, esp. the snow-bunting (Plectrophanes nivalis), snow-finch (Montifringilla nivalis), or snow-sparrow (Junco hiemalis)":
1694  Philos. Trans. 1693 (Royal Soc.) 17 996   The Snow-bird which I take to be much the same with our Hedge Sparrow; this is so called because it seldom appears about Houses but against Snow or very cold Weather.
OED has this 3rd definition: "3. U.S. slang. One who sniffs cocaine (cf. snow n.1 5d); gen. a drug addict":
1923   J. F. Fishman Crucibles of Crime vi. 126   It was discovered that each of them [sc. handkerchiefs] has a small ink mark in one of the corners..these handkerchiefs had been dipped in cocaine... The mark in the corner notified the ‘snowbird’ that it was ‘loaded.’
There's a 4th definition, also U.S. slang:
1923   Nation 31 Oct. 487   In winter, when building is at a standstill in the North, northern workmen, ‘snow birds’ or ‘white doves’ in Negro parlance, flock south.
And a 5th definition: "A person who likes snow; a snow-sports enthusiast." And here we get a D.H. Lawrence quote from 1928: "I am no snow-bird, I hate the stark and shroudy whitemen, white and black." [ADDED: Is "whitemen" an error in the OED?!] That's from something called "Not I," which I can't seem to find on the web. But with some "snow-bird" searching, I did come up with this D.H. Lawrence poem, "Self-Pity":
I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.
You're not feeling sorry for yourself on Christmas Eve, are you?

21 comments:

Bob said...

"You're not feeling sorry for yourself on Christmas Eve, are you?"

No. My thoughts are with the family of a Navy SEAL commander who took his own life in Afghanistan, leaving his wife a widow and his children fatherless.

They are also with the families of four firefighters from New York, murdered by a criminal.

Most of all my thoughts are with the families of children, murdered en masse in Newtown, their parents left to grieve and stare at presents that will go unopened tomorrow.

I work tonight, or I'd be tempted to attend Midnight Mass for the first time in decades. My job is quiet, though, so maybe at midnight I'll say a rosary, instead.

edutcher said...

The only junco we know is The Blonde's ankle doctor (good one, too).

And in FL, snowbirds are the people who live there during the winter.

(and that song isn't that bad; you just judge everything by Dylan)

john said...

I am.

Mostly because I really want to tell my family what I think of the Christmas "season". But I bite my tongue and say to myself "its not about me", which is true, honesty is a good thing, and saying it makes me feel a little better about it.

Rabel said...

Whiteness, not whitemen.

DH was an angry man

EDH said...

Familiar with the slang "blow monkey", but not snow bird.

Anne Murray, "Coke Binge" White Christmas.

traditionalguy said...

Snow Birds are a slur about the cheap mid-westerners who come to Florida in late December and leave in early March. They are considered a nuisance because expect everything to be free or very nearly free.

Ann Althouse said...

"Whiteness, not whitemen."

That book is in conflict with the Oxford English Dictionary, and I lean so strongly to believing the OED, but "whiteness" does make much more sense!

Have we found an error in the OED? I cut and pasted that, so it's not my typo.

Strelnikov said...

I was a snowbird in my youth but now I just watch them a the feeder.

Rabel said...

From the U of Nottingham Q and A:

Q. Can anybody view items from the D H Lawrence Collections?

A. Anyone can apply to consult the collections at Manuscripts and Special Collections, in our public Reading Room at King's Meadow Campus.

Road Trip!

Ann Althouse said...

"Road Trip!"

Ha ha. Someone needs to check that out. "Whitemen" is actually quite weird, and the OED reputation so important.

I assume it's handwriting and just hard to discern.

Michael K said...

We have the Oregon Junco in California. like this one. I don't if it is a variety or the same bird. They come to California in the winter so probably not.

GoodShipG said...

I feel sorry for myself that I'm not a wild thing.

Big Mike said...

We have juncos, cardinals, house finches, gold finches, chickadees, and the ubiquitous sparrows at our feeders. The juncos are the bravest -- after I refill the feeders they are the first on the scene. Cardinals are the most skittish. In the winter I put out black oil sunflower seeds (plus thistle seed in a separate feeder for the finches) pretty exclusively because it provides the most fat content.

Lem said...

Have we found an error in the OED?

"This is what a law professor with one staff and a massive world wide web can do, bitches!"

Ann Althouse said...

@Lem LOL

creeley23 said...

I occasionally see juncos in my backyard here in San Francisco. They don't hold still nor do they stay long, so I have to identify them from memory.

I know that DH Lawrence poem from GI Jane, as read by Viggo Mortensen the SEAL trainer. It was the first film I noticed Mortensen as a special talent.

Rockport Conservative said...

Snowbirds are found in all the Gulf Coast states, not just Florida. They also flock to New Mexico, Arizona and California. Many come in big boxy buses, they are the rich ones. Others come in fifth wheel trailers some of those are also rich, the rest are known as the Middle Class. They are mostly gray in hair color but some are still blond or red headed. Most get angry when it actually gets damp and chilly because when that happens they cannot call home and say "how cold is it up there?" and then say "it's only (insert warm temp here) here. They have some strange habits, hanging out at cheaper diners for breakfast; clogging up the aisles at the local HEB grocery (In Texas, in other states they find other grocers); skinny legged men wear shorts in the coldest weather; or on the other hand skinny women wear sweaters when it is very warm. These are only a few of their habits, but for a people watcher they are great fun to watch.

Bob Ellison said...

I am lucky enough to have no excuse to feel sorry for myself. Every Christmas I've been alive has been joyous.

Aridog said...

This day, Christmas Day, like every other day for 70 years, I am very happy to be alive. The have been times in my life where that was an uncertainty, so when the majority of days are fresh and new, it is a joy to behold, every morning, and to share when and where you can.

Bob Boyd said...

About twenty years ago I was sitting out on the second story deck of my parents house. It was not cold, but very windy, as it often is there. A small brown bird rose from under the deck trying to fly into the wind. It hung there in front of me, perhaps ten feet away, flapping its little heart out, unable to make any progress at all. I watched it for a bit as it refused to give up. Then it turned its head and looked at me, still flapping like mad. Ours eyes met and it spoke to me. It said, "Fawk!". Then it turned down wind and was gone.

Calypso Facto said...

How fitting that here husband's name is Jay!