Odd Birds

by Mark Kurlansky

A short story, with animals

Far up in the northern regions of New York City, in a place known as the Bronx, was a huge bird cage made of metal, wrought and twisted and seemingly crafted to perfection. In the cage lived some of the most beautiful birds in the world, including a bright green quetzal from Guatemala. The quetzal didn't know he was from Guatemala just like he didn't know that he now lived in the Bronx. He may have suspected he was beautiful. For most of his life he had lived in this tall cage with laurel branches to perch on and all the avocado he could eat. There were also other birds from different places or maybe the same place. He didn't really know. This quetzal had been in the Bronx for so long that he no longer remembered the green highlands of his birth but he was not unhappy where he was.

He was a quiet bird, who kept to himself, often spending hours on a branch without moving until everyone forgot he was there. But he had a friendly look, his close cropped fuzzy green plumes setting off his little round head. Hairless monkeys, some with hair on the tops of their heads, came to the cage to see the birds and they always liked the quetzal when they could spot him. He tried not to be spotted and they never harmed him.

Late at night there were screams of far away monkeys — loud shrill notes held for long seconds. But it was in the distance and not very troubling. The quetzal had a vague notion that nights were much more noisy where he came from. He liked the quiet night in the Bronx. But now he was hearing an odd creak. He heard it again. He looked up at the bolted metal struts of the cage, the only sky he could remember, as they started falling towards him. Birds screeched and squawked and chirped the news: the aviary was collapsing.

Metal was crashing to the ground louder than monkey screams and feathers seemed everywhere. The quetzal had only one thought — he had to get where it was safe. So he spread his green wings and showed their golden tips and unfurled his two foot tail that was almost twice the length of his glowing green body. It is difficult not to notice a quetzal in flight, which is why they prefer not to move too much. They fly with a long, undulating tail with green feathers and white down, the fine scarlet under feathers of the body showing from below. The ancient peoples of Central America, the Mayans and the Aztecs, believed the quetzal was a god. They called it a winged snake. Even today its official name is "the Resplendent Quetzal."

But now everyone was too busy to notice the resplendentness of the quetzal's flight. Some of the birds went to the bottom of the cage where there were huts and branches to hide under and others took refuge in the nearby trees. But the Resplendent Quetzal took off for the Guatemalan highlands that were buried in his memory.

One of the birds in the chaos below was a scarlet ibis from Trinidad, where he was born in a dark briny marsh known as the Caroni swamp. From his very long beak to his even longer legs, he was a bright red and the bright plumage at his head gave him a showy look, not completely inspiring trust. But despite the gaudiness, he was a startling beauty.

The scarlet ibis did not know what Trinidad was but he did remember that he came from the Caroni swamp. He would go there now except that he had no idea where it was. He remembered fishing for shrimp in black water with his long beak and the way his whole family, even cousins, would all settle into the same tree and enjoy the peace of sunset. Now there was no red light of sunset, only blackness and a bright round silver moon bigger than the eye of a giant and, flying through the silver-bright light, the red and green winged snake.

The scarlet ibis, himself was a God in the Caroni swamp and the descendant of an ancient Ibis that the Egyptians considered to be the moon god Thoth, who had invented language. He took three huge steps and folded his long thin legs under his red body and spreading his enormous scarlet wings, took to the air, climbing over the Bronx until he was right next to the quetzal.

The two gods, the Winged Serpent and Thoth, felt good flying over the Bronx. The scarlet ibis was flying — really flying — for the first time in years, stretching his neck and his wings, feeling strong. He would not come down until he found the family tree in the Caroni swamp.

While he searched for the Caribbean swamp the quetzal was in the highlands, dreaming. This was what he was meant to do. It felt right. Misty memories of the highlands crept back, where little avocados grew on trees not scattered on the ground and the laurel was thick above the mountains and the clouds brushed the tree tops above a red and black soiled earth. These memories visited while he snaked through the air with his long tail.

The two flew into the night, drunk on their little sips of freedom.

For a time they were gods and they only needed this feeling of flight. But where were they going? Were these the quetzal's highlands? Where was the ibis's swamp? Flying alone in the sky feels good for only a short time. They needed family. They needed other birds. The ibis could not remember ever being this alone.

The quetzal had only one relative in North America, a cousin in Arizona called the coppery-tailed trogon, who was also green and red and white, the white. He too was said to be very beautiful but he was not a quetzal and the quetzal didn't know about him or Arizona. He only knew how to find the broken cage in the Bronx and he was considering returning.

The scarlet ibis, like many in New York, had relatives in Florida. The Florida relatives were pink flamingoes, but to a scarlet ibis a pink flamingo is very pale man with bad eating habits. Instead of the pointed bill with which the ibis delicately picked through food, flamingos had a scoop for digging up mud, which they then sucked through strainers in their bills. He also had closer relatives in Long Island and New Jersey, known as the glossy ibis, not as brightly colored and more common but not known to him. He did not know where to find any birds and he too was considering heading back to the Bronx.

In truth, the scarlet ibis and the quetzal had been living a very easy life in the aviary, being fed gourmet meals, and doing very little flying. Now they were getting tired and looked for a place to land. In the dark the expanse below shimmered like a forgotten sea on a moonlit sea somewhere that he had once flown over.

But as the night sky turned purple and yellow on the edges and morning was coming, they saw that this was something very different. They saw squares and boxes. They did not know that this was real estate, or how much it was worth in a seller's market, that it was honey combed with monkeys even tunneling under the ground. They didn't even know that there were straight wide paths for machines that made monkeys move faster, only the machines moved too slowly because there were too many of them, or that there were panels selling things or posting warnings from homeland security. They knew none of this. All they knew was that this did not look like a good place for birds or for gods.

Ramona Pensky, who loved birds, was never going to give up her Fifth Avenue apartment. Where else in Manhattan could she wake up to bird song? She went to court to keep her apartment facing the park. Once her lawyer revealed that her husband had used the World Trade Center attack, pretended to be caught downtown when he was two blocks away at Lydia Paulsen's place, shacking up while others were dying — the lawyer was brilliant — the apartment was awarded to her even though she could barely afford it. Every morning she listened to the birds, put on her embroidered Barney's slippers, strolled to the window and gazed into the park. Why was it that she couldn't see them? She only heard them. Very small birds, she supposed.

The ibis and the quetzal spotted a spacious green rectangle. There were trees and lakes. The quetzal hoped the wooded hills might be his Highlands and the scarlet ibis circled a marshy area to see if it was the Caroni swamp. But his family tree wasn't there and though it was not yet dawn, all the ibises seemed to have already left.

The quetzal slowly descended onto a tree branch, letting his long tail float into position like a parachute gracefully landing. The scarlet ibis landed his bright red plumage in a higher branch, a swath of color looking too large to be a fruit but very ripe. They sat in silence in the tree as the morning light began to butter the green grass below. They were both thinking the same thing. They were hungry. This meant something entirely different for each of them. The quetzal was looking up, as quetzals do and the ibis was looking down as is their habit. What crustaceans were in the waters? What fruit were on the trees?

Instead they saw birds in the grass. They had brown coats and rust colored breasts, not bad looking birds, the two in the tree thought, but not nearly so beautiful that they should be strutting and sticking their chest out. They had that eagerness characteristic of smaller birds.

From their tree perches the two watched to see what food the rust-breasted birds were finding. The quetzal hoped they were looking for avocados though they were not looking in the trees. The scarlet ibis hoped they were looking for shrimp but they were not looking in the canals or the water's edge. Then they realized.

The birds were eating worms. The quetzal and the scarlet ibis had seen birds eat bugs. In the Bronx they had seen the vermillion flycatcher — very quick. But you didn't need to be quick to catch worms. The rust-breasted birds were very good at finding them, pulling them from the ground, holding the slithery things in their beaks and then swallowing them.

The ibis spread his scarlet wings and gently drifted to the ground. The quetzal followed, softly drifted to the ground. He pecked at the ground. The scarlet ibis drilled with his long beak and pulled out a worm. But it was slippery and slithered off his beak — to the sound of a group of voices, like an ancient bird choir.

They looked up and saw that they were surrounded by angry little brown birds with rust chests. They did not want them eating their worms. The rust-bellied birds were robins and they seemed very proud of that. Their beaks turned almost red with pride — or was it anger.

It was clear that this was not the Caroni swamp or the highlands and they did not belong there and these American birds, the robins did. The robins were the first birds of spring and they were entitled to the worms. Every place has its rules and those rules usually favor the local birds, which is why most birds prefer not to travel. They would see if the pigeons could help. Pigeons always know how to find food.

Dr. Ifigenio Sanchez stared at the sky. He shouldn't complain. He only lost two birds. Why those two? Why the ibis and the quetzal? Did they have stronger urges toward freedom than other birds? Stronger memories of home? Where would they go? They were not species that would adopt well to New York or the Northeast. Would they know to fly south? Dr. Sanchez suspected that they wouldn't go far. It was an unusually warm spring so they might not get sick. But would they find food? How determined were they to feel freedom? And how long would that last? He alerted the city, the Audubon Society, and several New York bird watcher groups. Now he could only wait.

The scarlet ibis and the quetzal had run into pigeons before and nothing good ever comes of it. In the Bronx they didn't even allow pigeons inside. But it was a bird they knew — knew a little though they didn't understand them. Dr. Sanchez always called them "rock doves." They were unimaginative hunters and they had good and durable marriages, neither being particularly admired traits in the bird world. But pigeons, even without hunting, were fat and always had food. That was because they knew how to get food from the monkeys, a useful skill.

And so the scarlet ibis and the quetzal put down the worms and went looking for the pigeons. Neither had ever personally met a pigeon but they had often seen them outside the aviary. They were not difficult to find. Pigeons, the opposite of quetzals, were always found around the hairless monkeys, which the ibis called boat people because they always came into the swamp in boats. It only took a one minute flight to locate a path that the monkey/boat people used and as the ibis and quetzal came in closer they could see it was crowded with fat, grey pigeons. They lowered themselves to the ground with great reluctance because the ibis did not like to expose himself to boat people out of their boats and the quetzal didn't mind hairless monkeys caged out but not in the open like this.

No sooner did the scarlet ibis have this thought while drifting down to the pavement than one of the boatless ones shouted to the other, "Look! It's one of those birds we saw in Florida!"

They thought he was a flamingo but the scarlet ibis didn't catch the slight. Both the pigeons, who were rock doves and the monkeys who were humans were staring at them. The pigeons immediately gathered around them — some skinny and worried, some fat with oily rolls on their necks. One of the fattest pigeons, a round grey tough looking bird with fatty rolls around his neck, and the purple and green colors that oil makes in a rain puddle, thrust out his purply chest as though to say, "welcome to pigeon park."

Was this place just for pigeons, the quetzal wondered and while he was wondering the fat pigeon cocked his blue grey tail feathers up and defecated on the ground, which seemed to answer the quetzal's question.

Quetzals have never thought well of indiscriminate defecation. A quetzal will eat fruit to fill up on the seeds and then choose carefully selected spots to drop them so that the fruit seeds will grow. But a pigeon, it seems, will relieve himself anywhere for no particular reason. In fact, the fat pigeon did it again.

There were rules. The robins got the first worms. The pigeons pooped where they liked. And how could they fit in with the rules here?

Eight people had already phoned Dr. Sanchez with sightings and he had a crew in a van heading out of the North Bronx for Central Park to grab those birds before they got sick. He wasn't sure how accurate the sightings were. One said they saw a parrot. One said she saw two ibis — one scarlet and one green. One said he saw a quetzal swimming in the boat basin, which was something a quetzal wouldn't do. Of course, Dr. Sanchez thought, there was always the possibility that they would stay in the park and learn how to adapt their life style. He really couldn't say if quetzals or ibises were good adapters. It didn't seem likely to him that they would survive in New York, but it occurred to him that hawks, eagles, all kind of exotic species have ended up in the park and that often, if they were tree dwellers, they ended up nesting high in the eaves of the older buildings along Central Park West and Fifth Avenue. He grabbed his binoculars.

The pigeons, when they were not fed by monkeys, got food through special arrangement with the sparrows. Sparrows do not have a good reputation. They are known for spending all of their time around the monkeys, begging for favors. But this was also true of these rock doves.

The quetzal watched a sparrow hop up to a large monkey eating a sandwich that she had taken out of a black bag. The quetzal had to admit that the sparrow was a fine looking bird, brown colored, plain and simple, which is how birds like their women. Dressing up and being vain, to birds, is very masculine. Feminine charm, resided in its quiet unpretentious appearance. The woman the sparrow hopped over to was overly adorned but that was the way with monkey women.

Hop. Hop. Hop. Oh look at me. Hop hop. She had to hop around the monkey woman for three minutes before the woman noticed but finally she started breaking off pieces of bread and throwing them at the sparrow. The sparrow bravely stood their hopping to avoid these dangerous bready missiles being hurled in her direction. Hop. Hop. Hop.

Finally the fat pigeon snapped his wings, lifting himself in the air and went over to where the sparrow was hoping and picked up most of the bread for himself and ate it.

"Oh, poor little sparrow," said the monkey woman. "What about you." She threw even more bread and the sparrow ate a few pieces though other pigeons came over and ate most of them. The fat pigeon looked even fatter when he got back to the quetzal.

The scarlet ibis picked out a boatless one in a green plaid suit adorned with gold chains. It was unusual to find a monkey man who dressed with such masculine pride. Hop. Hop. Hop. Went the little sparrow irresistibly. The monkey held out his sandwich, the entire sandwich, but the sparrow kept hopping, waiting for crumbs.

This was too much for the scarlet ibis, who leapt over a little wooden fence, took to the air, swept down and took the entire sandwich in the tips of his long beak and flew off while a chorus of angry pigeons and sparrows complained.

But it was a salami sandwich and ibises definitely don't eat salami so he tossed it to the other birds. He had to find some shrimp soon or his color would fade and he would start looking like a girl!

None of this suited the quetzal. He lived alone and plucked food where he found it and didn't beg and didn't eat with other birds. But ....

There was a monkey man dressed in dull dark colors, as though he were trying to look like a woman. Hop, hop, hop went the sparrow.

Suddenly the quetzal saw green. The man had an avocado sandwich. The quetzal did not need a strategy — he knew what to do. He unfurled his two foot long tail feather and leapt in the air. The human was so startled by this rare sight he did not notice all the avocado fall out of his sandwich to the ground where it was quickly consumed by the pigeons. When the quetzal landed, the sparrows were finishing the last of the bread, the avocado was all eaten.

Birds don't cry. They have no tears.

Ramona Pensky could see the whole thing from her window. She saw that Arab or whatever he was, tall and thin, an Ichabod Crane with a spy glass, pacing around in front of her building, looking in the windows, up on the roof. Why? What was he up to? She wan't going to let this happen to her again. She had been victim to one attack already. In her mind, her husband's dalliances on the day of the World Trade Center made her an attack victim. Her lawyer had argued this and the idea had become fixed in her mind.

Signs had been posted all over the city saying "If you see something, say something" and they gave a phone number which she had written down. Buses had signs on them boasting of the number of New Yorkers who had called. Two months ago in a snow storm, out of desperation because she could not find a taxi, she took a subway and an announcement came over the loudspeaker asking her to report "any suspicious activity."

The announcement had been striking because the recording was clear and she could understand every word, unlike the useful announcements like the one about the local train going express which would have saved her an unnecessary journey to the Bronx had she been able to decipher it.

The piece of paper with the phone number was right where she left it on the breakfront.

She decided on a coy approach. "Don't you think it's strange that an Arab has been casing out my building with a spy glass?"

"A spy glass?"

"A spy glass," she confirmed.

"Yes, that is strange."

"I thought so too."

"What does it look like?"

"Tall, thin, big nose, black curly hair. An Arab"

"No. The spy glass?"

"The spy glass?"

"You mean one of those things pirates use?"

"You think it is a pirate? Like from Somalia? They're kidnappers aren't they?"

The quetzal was drunk. The ibis was feeling a little wobbly but the quetzal was resplendently smashed. He fell out of a tree. Now in a situation like this it would have been a perfectly human thing to just go get drunk, but these birds were not human and that is not what an ibis normally does and certainly not the way of the quetzal. But it was becoming clear to them that they were not going to be able to survive on shrimp or on avocados. It was equally clear that this area was packed with food. Let the robins have their worms, and the pigeons and sparrows their bread crumbs. Berries grew in the bushes and small fruits and nuts hung from the trees. But much of this food had survived the winter and had slightly dried and fermented and this seemed to be having a pronounced effect on their navigation systems. But they were not alone. They saw a titmouse staggering and a number of finches waddling awkwardly on branches. A brown creeper was so smashed he was feeding on a tree from the bottom up whereas there is an unspoken code among birds that you always feed from the top down. And there was no excuse for the unsteady flickers.

Ramona Pensky wanted to see one of those signs that showed how many people had reported suspicious activities. She wished she had written that number down, too, so that she could now see if the number had gone up. Had it gone up by one?

The police had been convinced that Dr. Ifigenio Sanchez was an Arab until he showed them his driver's license and they noticed that he had a Spanish last name. Now they assumed that he did not speak English and began speaking very slowly. "Green card."


This was not going to be easy. They tried again slowly. "Where — is — your — gr-e-e-n card? Dondé está?"

"I don't have a green card."

The two policeman nodded knowingly at each other.

"I'm a U.S. citizen. I work for the Bronx zoo."

But they were no longer listening because in their minds now, he did not speak English. They just repeated in slowly unfolding syllables, "DO-Min-I-CAN-no."

"I'm from Costa Rica but I am a naturalized citizen."

"Do-Min-I .... "

"Look I'm an ornithologist for the Bronx zoo."

The police could see that this guy was breaking and they pounced on it.

"How many nathologists operate out of the Bronx?"

Dr. Sanchez continued to explain about his position at the zoo, his citizenship, where he kept a passport to prove it, who could be called to speak for him. But there is a point in a conversation when one side is alone because the other side has stopped listening. In polite conversation this situation can be recognized by the nodding of the head and a vague and inappropriate smile. But in a situation where one side feels too empowered for politeness to be required, the face simply goes blank, the light goes out and no further transmissions will be received.

Dr. Sanchez recognized that this was the situation he now found himself in and so he stopped talking. He knew that he could get this straightened out but for now they were taking him in and by the time it was all cleared the quetzal could be dead. There were hawks to worry about too — coopers, sharp-shinned, even some red-tail.

But he had no choice.

Lolly Messerheim had dressed in her bird watching khakis with all the big pockets. Actually it had big everything because she had gotten the whole thing at Filene's for only $25 but it was a size or two too large, which made her look even smaller than she really was. She had pens, pencils, a sketch book, field guides, camera, long lenses, and her notebook in which she checked off her sightings. She had gotten up early to catch the visiting warblers who had come in the night before and glutted themselves on the celebrated bugs of Manhattan, before continuing on to the warbler orgies of the northern grounds — a happy time for warblers. And for Lolly Meserheim, who had already checked off several new species in her book. She had spotted a little black and white eastern phoebe on a bush, wagging its tail about to pounce on a fly. Egotistical little birds, they are easy to identify because they tell you their name.

"Fee-bee, Fee-bee."

In excitement and not without humor Lolly chimed back, "Lo-lee. Lo-lee." But then she found a yellow rumped warbler with that little spot of color, a little greenish worm-eating warbler who didn't care about the bugs, and a little chubby yellow pine warbler. Or it might have been a palm warbler. It took off before she could see if it had that touch of red on the head. But she got some photos and she would look later before marking her book. She even saw a prairie warbler who weren't usually in the park this early in the Spring. She supposed this was because it was so unusually warm, which led her to reflections on the impact of climate change on bird cycles. Something to think about.

The warblers were waking up and leaving, off to have mad sex in Canada. Who could blame them? More would come in tonight.

Then Lolly saw the kind of sight that leaves no New Yorker indifferent.

There was an open table on the restaurant by the boat basin. It was out on a wooden deck over the water. People wait for hours for such a table but there it was with no line on this first warm sunny day of Spring. Like a warbler headed north for a rendezvous, she tucked in her tail and darted straight for the table, not waiting to be seated. She flung her camera, binoculars and notebook on the table to leave no doubt about possession. New Yorkers, like birds in egg laying season, are very clear on issues of territory.

She ordered shrimp and a bottle of California chardonnay. It felt good to sip the wine even though it was much too oaky, tasted a bit like sucking on a tree. But Californians didn't want you to miss the oak. She examined her photos. She could see a corner of a rust colored cap on that one warbler. She opened her book and checked off palm warbler. Such fast little creatures, she was pleased to have gotten the shot. And even more pleased to check it in her notebook, the first palm warbler she had ever sighted. She sipped the chardonnay and felt the warm sun. If she had been a warbler, she would have wagged her tail.

Not far away, a slightly drunk scarlet ibis was creating a sensation splashing in the water. There were a few small crustaceans he could eat but his coordination was off and he wasn't landing quite right. The commotion of all the monkeys frightened the quetzal and he remained in the upper branches of the tallest trees. But the scarlet ibis was not worried because now the people were back in their boats where they belonged.

And then from high up, the quetzal spied something. The monkeys, the ones not in the boats, were sitting around eating — unbelievably — shrimp and avocados. Now the ibis saw it too. Stealing food from monkeys was a dangerous proposition but this could not be passed up.

"Bolling, Homeland security."

"Asshole," thought Captain Frank Flicker. He called me. Why does he always have to make me feel like I called him? "So what did you find, Carter?"

Frank was not sure how this sounded because he could never remember if Carter was Bolling's first or last name.

"Will figure it out," said Bolling.

"I think its figured out."

"There's cults and schisms of cults. And they all need watching. "

"But the zoo vouched for this guy."

How'd he spell that. Was it N-I-H. Nihthologist? Or N-A-T-H, nathologist?"

"I don't know the spelling, Carter. But I talked to the zoo. They said they did have someone by that name. They said they did. I asked if he called himself a nithologist or nathologist and they said he was. They said they had eight of them. I asked if there were more operatin in the Bronx and they said 'Maybe.' That's all I got."


Carter claimed that everything was interesting. It made it appears as though he knew something others couldn't see. Frank thought he had learned this trick from watching Basil Rathbone in old Sherlock Homes movies. But this was only a guess. "You know what I think, Bolll — er — Carter?" There was a pause because, of course, Carter T. Carter or whatever his name was didn't want to know what Frank thought. But he would tell him anyway. "I think our guy Sanchez is just an odd bird. I've been ten years in this precinct. Once the weather warms up for Spring every odd bird in the city turns up here. You should have seen who we just busted for assault and battery. Assault and battery! This hundred pound woman who pounded this big guy over the head with a wine bottle. She said his tennis racket was hurting the birdies."

"Just hold him. I want to question him."

"Don't have anything to hold him on."

"So you refuse to cooperate?"

"Just hurry up."

"I'm on my way."

"I'm telling you, Carter. Just one of these odd birds."

"We'll see."

Still tipsy and full of excitement, the scarlet ibis had swept across tables, knocking over glasses, causing screams of panic. Thoth run amock. But he was getting his shrimp.

The quetzal, watching from the heights, had not gotten so alcohol-foolish that he was about to go near these flailing monkeys. Still several plates had been knocked to the deck and large chunks of chartreuse and yellow avocado were lying there unobserved.

Harold Rab was an attorney, a trial lawyer, a big one. He was six foot five inches tall and was dressed entirely in white, which made him look even larger in the sun light. He was discussing a case in the head phones of his cell phone in such a loud voice, explaining what he needed and where, that everyone could hear what a big case it was. In fact management had been thinking of asking him to turn off his phone or leave.

But when the ibis swooped in clumsily for his shrimp, it became tangled in the headphones and panicking, took off quickly, carrying the head phones with him, the cell phone dangling below like a ball and chain. The ibis shook it off and it sank into the boat basin, temporarily delaying the attorney's defense strategy.

"Son of a bitch," shouted Harold Rab, in a throaty roar that made Lolly look in his direction. He was now standing with his tennis racket in a batter's stance as a beautiful green bird ... Oh my God, it's a quetzal ....

She had never seen a quetzal. She had once spent ten days in Guatemala trying to find one but she never did. Now this large angry man with the tennis racket seemed about to kill one. She had no time to think. She grabbed the bottle of chardonnay, ran over to the man, reached up, and slammed the bottle as hard as she could on the man's head.

It was not what she had expected. The bottle did not break the way it always does in the movies. Instead it bounced off his head with sickening thud, like a wooden club hitting rubber. Was the wine too oaky? Would a bottle of Sauvignon blanc have worked better? Just a passing thought that she quickly dismissed.

Night came to Central Park. New warblers would be coming like a fresh crop of tourists checking in. The small and misnamed screech owl — no bird would call him that — cooed a soft and breathy vibrato before silently flapping his white wings in a stealth hunting mission. Night heron with their white shirts and black suits, like potbellied attorneys, flew to the boat basin in search of fish. It was past time for the ibis to find his tree for the night, but he had no one to nest with. He leapt into the air, stretched his broad wings and headed north. Freedom felt good but he did want to be hungry, afraid, or alone. To escape all that would also be freedom, and he was soon back in the Bronx. It was dark now but he could still see from the air that the aviary had been fixed.

And the quetzal? He flew to the safety of the highest treetop but then a little lower he saw a laurel, his favorite tree. He was learning how to find food here and which fruits to avoid because they made him feel funny — and how to stay away from the monkeys. Everyone wants freedom but every bird has its own idea of freedom.

Dr. Ifigenio Sanchez had waited in the zoo and was relieved that the ibis had returned. The quetzal was going to be more difficult. Quetzals knew how to hide.

Lolly Messerheim could see that she had chosen the wrong wine and the wrong person to hit over the head. But she was home now and she took out her note book and triumphantly placed a check mark next to the words "Resplendent Quetzal" and then noted the date and "boat basin, Central Park."



Mark Kurlansky is the author of numerous nonfiction books including Cod, A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Salt: A World History, Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, and most recently The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of Dan Pedro de MacorĂ­s. He is the author of a novel, Boogaloo on Second Avenue: A Novel of Pastry, Guilt and Music and a short Story collection The White Man in the Tree and other stories. His third book of fiction, a cycle of interconnected short stories about food, Edible Stories will be published in November 2010.

Articles in this Issue

Introduction, by the Editors
The Bobcat, by George Getschow
Aileron, by Margaret Combs
Odd Birds, by Mark Kurlansky
Hollow Earth, by Chelsea Bauch
Snowbound, by Jonathan Shipley
Staking Claims, by Chantal Corcoran
The Seven Pound Lion, by David Helvarg
Yosemite's Twin, by Sam Kean
Diagnosis Alaska, by Charles Wohlforth