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The Stars at Night, a Wood-Rail in verse

The Rufous-necked Wood-Rail of New Mexico, sadly having most likely moved on now, has inspired no shortage of excitement among birders in the ABA area and beyond. Even those of us stuck on the wrong side of the continent – like yours truly – have really enjoyed watching so many birders so excited about a single sighting and the carnival-like atmosphere that resulted.

BdA Wr2

photo by Jeff Gordon

Perhaps the most creative response to the wood-rail was sent to me by poet Tom Crawford. I share it with you now.



Tom Crawford

I wanted to be a more serious poet,

grind my teeth in the dark,

get existential with my emotional fatigue

but with one good bourbon on ice

I was always in bed by 9:00.

And in the morning, couldn’t help it,

the early light dazzled me

and like clock work, here come the birds

again, right through my window.

Of course, by then I’m lost

to any feelings of hopelessness

which also meant I had no chance

with East coast magazines where celebration

tends to raise a stink. My up beat,

excitable poems, well—you can blame it

on the birds, their variety, colors, habits, long

evolution—I’ve been unable to resist.

There are lots of people, I’ve discovered,

not all that comfortable with happiness.

Now I’m resigned to a small circle of friends

who have also turned to birds.

That’s right, they put out suet and seed.

And they won’t live where they can’t see

the stars at night. The other day someone spotted

a South American Rufous-necked Wood-Rail

in the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico of all places.

The news went viral. Birders came in by car and plane

from all over America just to glimpse this darling.

Everybody was happy.


Tom Crawford is a teacher and the author of 7 books of poetry, the most recent, The Names of Birds which is available through his web page: His love, besides birding and writing about birds, is presenting at bird venues. Most recently, Mono Lake’s Bird Chautauqua in Lee Vining,  California.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

Latest posts by Nate Swick (see all)

  • Suzan

    Tom Crawford’s latest book, “The Names of Birds,” contains many wonderful poems about birds. If you like “The Stars at Night,” you’ll want to read entire “The Names of Birds.”

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Recent Comments

  • Nate, in Rare Bird Alert: October 13, 2017... { That's fair about the weather timing. I recall the observers saying something about Hurricane Nate being involved, but how much is not clear. As to... }
  • Gary Bloomfield, in Birding with a Tricorder... { Great essay, Ted! Feel sorry for the guy in the photo who's wearing a red shirt, though. }
  • Steve Shultz, in Rare Bird Alert: October 13, 2017... { I believe the NC swift was seen on Saturday, October 7 (unless the date indicated by the observer on the photo was incorrect). Nate did... }
  • Rick Wright, in #ABArare - Yellow-breasted Bunting - Newfoundland & Labrador... { What a great bird! Sadly topical: }
  • Nate, in Rare Bird Alert: October 13, 2017... { Whoops. You're right. Those I names turned me around. I'll fix when I get a chance. Sent from my phone }
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