Carl White’s Life in the Carolinas

Winter Walks
A Winter’s Day for the Birds 
by Suzelle Sinclair

Now let’s look for birds! The tall iron branches in the forest …
Overhead, a crazy song, It’s a bird.
How out of its throat smaller than a finger can there fall the waters of its song?
Luminous ease! Invisible power, torrent of music in the leaves.
Sacred conversations!

~Pablo Neruda


Bare branches make intricate patterns against a crisp blue sky. While some may miss the beautiful green canopy of summer, today I treasure the opportunity to see what the foliage often hides. It is true that many birds migrate to warmer regions during the winter months; however, the Carolinas are home to a variety of species year-round.

Pausing to sit quietly, I close my eyes to experience the sound of the forest around me. As the sun peeks through the bare branches and warms my cheeks, the melody of the forest warms my heart. The unique and distinct voices of various species blend together in harmony. With eyes closed, I recognize the familiar sound of a male and female Cardinal chirping back and forth to one another. One speaks, and then the other, a conversation with purpose. I wonder what they are saying? Have they just met or are they longtime mates?

Other birds join the chorus of the forest: a White-Throated Sparrow, a Tufted Titmouse. The rhythm section of this outdoor symphony booms in. It is the familiar drumming of a woodpecker. I open my eyes to see on the tree in front of me, a beautiful male Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, with his distinctive red forehead and chin and bright yellow belly. The Yellow Bellied Sapsucker gets its fun name from the fact that it actually sucks sap from trees, most often maples or apple trees. While this colorful character could be pecking for many reasons, at this time of year his drumming is most likely a form of communication. It is a way of marking territory as well as a way to call a mate.

The beautiful, sacred conversations of the forest make me think of my own words, of my own voice. Do my words sound as sweet? I am sure that they do not always ring so melodic. Maybe there are some lessons to learn from the birds today.

The Cardinals, for example, do not talk over one another. One will sing and, following a poetic pause, the other will reply. There is much to learn about harmony of relationship from their conversations. The Woodpecker, while he beats his head against the tree, his drumming is not in vain. How often do I bang my head unnecessarily without purpose? How often do empty words simply result in a needless headache? And perhaps the most important lesson: although the birds are all different species, their voices come together into one beautiful symphony. We, like the birds, do not have to look the same or be the same for our voices to blend together and make the world a more beautiful and joyful place. Our words have the invisible power to bring joy and harmony, like the songs of the birds.

As I turn to leave, I focus intently one last time on the sweet songs of the forest in hope that this peaceful and joyful music will continue to play in my head and in my heart, and that my own voice will resonate to it in harmony as I speak to a world that needs more melodic tones and sacred conversations.

In the upcoming months many species of birds will be returning to the Carolinas, I encourage you to watch for these returning part time residents to our region. You can find more about birdwatching in the Carolina at a number of websites including: <>; <>, <>