My friends, I have seen the first robin of spring, and I’m here to tell you: That bird has one foul mouth.

I’m talking about those people who stomp down Park Street swearing loudly for no apparent reason. For me, that’s the sign that spring has arrived.

Like a shrewd bird-watcher crouched in the bushes with binoculars, I planted myself on the downtown sidewalk. Monday was a beautiful day. The sun was bright and the air was warm. The profane birds were out in flocks.

My first sighting came early in the afternoon. This particular bird flew past on a bicycle, heading toward Pine Street. He looked to be well and had no distress that I could see. But his caw was laced with veteran swear words that echoed shrilly down the sunny street.

Just as each breed of bird has its unique chirp, the gutter-throated warbler is recognized by its individual sound. The bird on the bike tended to shout the same word over and over, only occasionally intermingling milder cusses. What I mean is, the really bad word was his chirp of choice. Other dirty words were used to illustrate small points, or maybe to communicate with other foul-mouthed creatures in the area.

The problem with the mixture of loudness and profanity is that it’s not always possible to detect the overall tone of the tirade. From what I could tell from this bird, he appeared to be angry – very, very angry – at his bicycle tire.

I saw my second foul-mouthed bird of spring just as dusk fell. This was clearly a more powerful and aggressive bird. His shrieked string of profanity carried for blocks. He was stalking his way along Park Street like he had a purpose and that purpose was to swear and swear loudly. No canary, this one.

This warbler liked to mix up his choice of expletives. But he preferred each to be louder than the last. And every now and then, he would sweetly interweave a non-swear word, perhaps to confuse prey. In this case, the screaming bird on Park Street occasionally shouted “two months!” to be followed by more words from the wild. Or maybe it was “too much.” I couldn’t tell. I have a humble human ear.

I was also greeted by the sight of a bad-mouth bird of banter I’d seen before. A very confusing specimen, this one. She’s of bright plumage and has a sweet smile. She walks toward you looking as if she might say hello. Or maybe comment on the weather. But the moment she swoops within earshot, she’s spouting off cusses that would make construction workers blush. Normally, her high-pitched castigation is in the form of criticism for someone only she can see. I’ve seen this bird many times and I’ve never heard her sing a different song.

She must startle even veteran ornithologists with her crass caw. Picture a sweet-looking finch hopping around on a tree branch. Then picture that pretty finch suddenly shouting obscenities only heard in the roughest bars. Loud. Always loud, the cuss-birds of Park Street.

Being a journalist and a truly desperate columnist, I looked into it. It seems that some small animals, including birds, need to screech louder to be heard over longer distances. To make matters worse, some birds have to compete with other species that communicate in the same frequency. No wonder they get irritated. No wonder they swear louder and louder when the weather turns warm and more birds come out. They just really, really need to be heard.

The language of the street may not be so different than the language of the wild. But I realize, of course, that I’ve proven nothing with this exhaustive scientific study. I realize also that I’ve been resorting to birds as fodder for the column lately. For this, I apologize. On this subject, you won’t hear another peep out of me.

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter.


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