Thursday, September 7, 2017

Thursday's Thoughts: Trust Mary Oliver's "Rx"


Once upon a time, on the date of April the twenty-fourth, in the year of 1969, United Artists released  the movie,  If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium. The story-line chronicled the humorous adventures of a group of American tourists taking an eighteen-day guided bus tour of nine European countries.

According to Wiki, the film's title was "also used by a 1965 documentary on CBS television that filmed one such tour, was taken from a New Yorker cartoon by Leonard Dove. Published in the June 22, 1957, issue of the magazine, the cartoon depicts a young woman near a tour bus and a campanile, frustratedly exclaiming 'But if it's Tuesday, it has to be Siena,' thereby humorously illustrating the whirlwind nature of European tour schedules."

The movie's title, If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium, over the years, has subsequently been used to describe a number of situations. In fact, for a number of weeks, here on Blogger, yours truly ran a series of blog posts called If It's Tuesday, It Must Be tumblr, and, readers were invited to read what I had posted on tumblr.

However, I no longer post on tumblr regularly, my last entry there was in April of 2017. Moreover, on Tuesday, July 19th of 2016, here on Blogger, I announced a new Tuesday series, which is known as Tuesdays Truths. This past Tuesday, September 5th 2017, Tuesday, I posted my fifty-eighth entry for this series. 

Be that as it may, the If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium reference is on my mind once again today, because as I was doing some research on molting, which is what a blue jay visiting my urban garden (seen in the image atop this entry) is experiencing, I came across an article titled, If the Blue Jays are Bald, It Must Be August.

The author, Nancy Castillo, writes "Blue Jays go through one complete molt a year in late summer.  This molt usually proceeds in an orderly fashion so that you barely notice that it's going on. But Blue Jays (as well as Northern Cardinals) often experience a complete molt of their head and maybe even their neck feathers. Nothing is wrong with the bird and the feathers will grow back."

Meanwhile, the WBU in North Carolina has this to say about molting:

"Molting is a process that many different creatures undergo. Insects and crustaceans molt their exoskeletons; snakes and other reptiles shed their skin; and, of course, birds molt their beautiful plumage. However, with most birds, molting is often a fairly inconspicuous event. They lose their feathers a few at a time. They shed their flight feathers in pairs, symmetrically, one from each side, so as not to affect flight. The entire process could take from days to months (depending on the species and the time of year), and the casual observer would not notice a thing."

Their article goes on to explain that "Molting is basically a tire change. Birds are able to rid themselves of worn, damaged feathers and replace them with beautiful new plumage. Since feathers are responsible for more than just a bird’s ability to fly, molting is even more critical than one might initially think... Feathers also provide weather protection, making a bird virtually waterproof. The feathers on a bird’s body overlap and the individual tines on each feather actually interlock. The net effect is an aerodynamic rain-sheet - wind and water slide right off with little resistance."

This article concludes with the following statement: "In any case, molting is another fascinating aspect of the nature of our charming, enigmatic avian friends. Enjoy them, cherish them, and respect them."

Their conclusion seems akin to a quotation by the poet Mary Oliver, whose poems have been featured within a number of my entries here on Blogger. The quotation I'm referring to is from Oliver's work, Red Bird:

“Instructions for living a life. 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it.”

And in this posting, I'd like to tell you about my awe in seeing a blue jay, as well as a Northern cardinal, going through their molting process while visiting my garden, which, as you may know, is on a rooftop in NYC,  and is also the setting for the book, Words In Our Beak Volume One.


Molting is not discussed in volume one; but an article from WBU Gainesville, has this to say about  the topic: "Just as people make seasonal wardrobe changes, many birds are beginning a transformation of their own, losing and replacing their feathers in a process known as molting."

The aforementioned article explains that a bird's feathers "are made of more than 90% protein, primarily keratins, so every molting bird needs extra proteins to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation."

Their narrative claims that one can assist "in the process of molting by offering high-protein bird foods such as peanuts, Bark Butter, and mealworms to ensure that your birds have a reliable source of protein to help them with molting."

Therefore, in my effort to help them with molting, I make sure that my wreath-style bird feeder is full of peanuts during this crucial time. And, as you can see, in the photo atop this entry, my efforts are appreciated by blue jays.

They are also appreciated by cardinals. This is evidenced in the next set of pictures, where a male northern cardinal, like the jay seen in the image atop this entry, spends time at the peanut feeder, but in between "beak-fulls" of this legume, he remains mindful of his surroundings; including me.







As you can see, during this molting season, "my" cardinal's feathers are a combination of old and new feathers. The bird looks ragged and unkempt when both new and old feathers are present. Usually, the feather cover is thin, but seldom is a large patch of bare skin visible.

Benjamin Burtt describes the appearance this way: "The bird looks ragged and unkempt when both new and old feathers are present. Usually, the feather cover is thin, but seldom is a large patch of bare skin visible."

I'm not sure if I would use the words "ragged and unkempt," to describe this, as I've had my ragged and unkempt moments, which seem to occur more often than this cardinal's.

His "ragged and unkempt" look is confined to the molting season, as for mine...

In any event, a web-page known as Seasons Flow, reiterates what all of the aforementioned sources have stating re this process, by saying, "Molting takes place gradually over some weeks. This way a bird is not left featherless, flightless and cold, which is what would happen if all of its feathers came off at once.  Sometimes different parts of the body molt at different times- for instance, the head and body may molt during a given time, and then the wings molt at a later time. Although birds can be flightless for a brief period, generally the feather loss and replacement is an even process scattered over the bird’s body so that vital functions are not greatly impeded."

Regarding blue jays and molting, Ben Burtt states: "The blue jay has only one molt in late summer. So it looks pretty much the same throughout the year. In the spring, its feathers are worn and faded. The blue is not so brilliant and black bars are less apparent in the spring than in the fall when its feathers are new."

Here are some pictures of jays going through the molting process as they spend time in my garden. 












And with that, dear reader, I hope that you've enjoyed my bird's eye view of a Northern cardinal and blue jays molting. Moreover, I highly recommend that one of your prescriptions for life will be to heed Mary Oliver's Rx:

“Instructions for living a life. 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it.”



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