The Bluebird Effect

Julie Zickefoose

The Bluebird Effect

“In a tiny cottage in Connecticut, crowned by an ancient stone chimney, I lived with chimney swifts. A pair nested there each year, and for about a month and a half each summer, I could hear the muffled roar of the birds' wings as they tended nestlings that first chittered and then yammered and then inexorably drove me to distraction with the harsh, scraping screech of adolescent chimney swifts being fed. The chimney acted as a sound chamber for the birds' slightest utterance. I loved the sleepy, continuous twitter of the family at night, even as the occasional ruffle of their wings woke me.”

Thus Julie Zickefoose, writer, artist, and wildlife rehabilitator, describes her early interactions with chimney swifts in her book, The Bluebird Effect. Subtitled Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds, it's part naturalist's notebook, part memoir, and completely beautiful in its descriptions, both in words and in watercolors and drawings, of the wild birds she encounters over the years in her work. She goes on:

“The birds were largely unseen, until a rainy day when I found three naked chicks rolling about in the cold fireplace, perhaps dislodged by the water streaming down the inside of the open chimney. I took them in, warmed them, and fed them, but I knew I was out of my league with these blind, naked nestlings. When the weather broke, I made a nest from a pasteboard strawberry box, climbed onto the roof, and lowered it on strings into the chimney, as close to the level of their original nest as I could get. I tied it securely and went back into the house to listen. A whir of wings as an adult swift entered the chimney, the unmistakable scrabble of its claws on the side of the strawberry box, and the clamor of prodigals being fed. A huge grin spread across my face, on of wonder at the birds' flexibility in accepting my makeshift nest mixed with extreme relief at being freed from having to raise them myself.”

Years later, though, Zickefoose does raise seven foundling swifts, and is able to release them all successfully when they are old enough to feed themselves; the birds immediately bond with a wild flock. This essay, one of twenty-five in the book, has a happy ending, for both birds and author; though others haven't, they're amazing, and shouldn't be missed. Be sure to read all about all the birds Zickefoose describes so movingly and so beautifully.

Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright 2012, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.