I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/By the false azure in the windowpane.
I was reminded of those opening lines of Nabokov’s poetic masterpiece Pale Fire recently as I watched a female cardinal batter herself against the window of our barn. She’d perch on the branch of the flowering pear espalier between bouts — then fling herself up against the glass with the messianic fervor of a true zealot. In the case of our cardinal, I’m sure the nesting season brought out her territorial instincts, and the reflection in the window looked to her like a predator. She was attacking herself. The good news is this behavior isn’t life-threatening. In fact, she’s stopped now, no doubt preoccupied with the care and feeding of her young. But, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, most birds fly into windows because they see a reflection of the sky or trees — Nabokov’s “false azure” — leading to about a billion bird deaths in the U.S. every year. For information about what you can do to help prevent this slaughter visit: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/why-birds-hit-windows-and-how-you-can-help-prevent-it/
Here’s a poem about another bird at a different window by the contemporary American poet Dorianne Laux.
By Dorianne Laux
For days now a red-breasted bird
has been trying to break in.
She tests a low branch, violet blossoms
swaying beside her, leaps into the air and flies
straight at my window, beak and breast
held back, claws raking the pane.
Maybe she longs for the tree she sees
reflected in the glass, but I’m only guessing.
I watch until she gives up and swoops off.
I wait for her return, the familiar
click, swoosh, thump of her. I sip cold coffee
and scan the room, trying to see it new,
through the eyes of a bird. Nothing has changed.
Books piled in a corner, coats hooked
over chair backs, paper plates, a cup
half-filled with sour milk.
The children are in school. The man is at work.
I’m alone with dead roses in a jam jar.
What do I have that she could want enough
to risk such failure, again and again?