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Megaornithophobia

February 5, 2007

I'm not sure if that's the proper term, but I strung together my Greek prefixes and roots in order to cobble up an authentic-sounding word to describe one of my secret, dark fears: big birds.

I'm a bird lover. I have four bird feeders out and a humming bird feeder for the summer. Part of it is to get the kids excited about the world around us and amuse them while they eat dinner or lunch or hang out at the kitchen table. Another is because I'm a bird geek. Strangely, though, large birds make me really uncomfortable. Even the thought of them makes me a little wary.

This past weekend, while driving to church, I was zipping along Wake Forest road when I spied, sitting on the ground at the side of the road, what could only be a juvenile bald eagle. The thing was fucking huge. I thought it was a trash bag at first, but then I realized it was raptor-shaped. It's head was covered with black feathers, so it wasn't a turkey buzzard, and for a moment I thought it was a raven, but it was far too huge to be a raven. Plus, it had a hooked beak (I think...I was traveling pretty fast). In retrospect, I should have turned around to get a better look at it. But, honestly, I'm afraid that it would have taken flight, and while that might be cool and majestic, it's also pretty damned frightening. So, I continued on to church and, unfortunately, it was no longer there when I came back an hour and a half later.

Still. It was cool, fascinating and frightening all at once. This isn't the first time I've been weirded out by large birds, though.

When I was in college, during biology lab, we made a trip up to Jasper-Pulaski State Wildlife Area in the fall because, as luck would have it, Sandhill cranes get together by the millions and fly to this one spot in northwestern Indiana on their way south for the winter. And when I say millions, I mean it. We went to one of the observation towers and watched as they did their dances and whatnot and, as it was moving on toward evening, we decided it was time to go. I looked up and said something about the clouds moving in and that I didn't think we were expecting rain. The park ranger (or DNR ranger) offered, kindly, "those aren't clouds."

He was right. They were flocks of cranes so thick they blocked out the sun, or at least cast the sky in a grayer light. I looked through the field glasses provided by my biology prof and about shit my pants. There was nothing but black and dark gray silhouettes coming in from the north and west. It was then that I first realized how much these creatures bother me.

As best as I can figure it, this must be an innate evolutionary response to millions of years ago when terror birds were picking off our ancestors right and left as we crawled down from the trees and thought "hey, this walking upright is kind of--glug!" The glug was where one of those terror birds that evolved right after the dinosaurs got wiped snapped off our heads while thinking about how great upright walking is. My continued fascination with megafauna that occurred after the K-T extinction has often included these huge, predatory birds. It makes perfect sense that the birds would have filled the niche left by the predatory dinosaurs, as more and more evidence is coming out that a lot of dinosaurs, especially in the last Cretaceous, were feathered (I've even heard the king, Tyrannosaurus rex may have been feathered). It's not a big stretch to go from feathered velociraptor to Phorusrhacoids. Either way, both thoughts are pretty terrifying, and you can imagine that our ancestors, while trying to avoid lions and hyenas, were also keeping an eye out for huge eagles and large, mean flightless birds. I'm glad I live now rather than back then. It might be cool to have some of these huge birds around still, but I'm just going to go ahead and assume that they died out for a reason and not worry over it too much.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep an eye out around here. There's a huge bird hanging around here somewhere. I might need to invest in a camera of some kind so I can snap some shots of this thing. For one, it might help me identify it and two, maybe I can deal with my fear of these huge, winged creatures, no matter how irrational it might appear.

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