There aren’t very many birds in So Far From God by Ana Castillo, but the ones that are mentioned are more than just background fluff.

peacock-with-fully-fanned-tailAround the time Sofi decides to run for la mayor of Tome, it’s mentioned that a gringo has bought some land nearby and is raising peacocks. One of the things they mention about the peacocks is the noise–they are pretty noisy birds! Castillo describes them as sounding like a cat in heat! I don’t know if I’d agree with that–although I have to admit to not being overly-familiar with the sounds made by a cat in heat–but peacocks definitely make a racket.

Now, normally birders don’t add captive birds to their life lists, and the online Audubon Guide to North American Birds doesn’t include the peacock. However, occasionally captive birds escape in sufficient numbers to actually establish a small colony. This happens perhaps most noticeably with parrots in the United States, but there are also several areas throughout the US where there are established wild peacock colonies.

In any case, in So Far From God, La Loca tries to befriend a peacock (pavo real in Spanish–which, literally, means royal turkey) that repeatedly escapes her neighbor’s farm and visits the acequia near her home, so we’re adding it to our life list!

In the chapter about Francisco stalking Caridad, it’s mentioned that he notices a pair of hummingbirds building a nest above her door, which he takes as a good omen, since hummingbirds are a sign of love. The only problem (for a birder) is that no information is given that might help identify which species of hummingbird this was, other than the fact that building a nest indicates it’s breeding season. There are two species of hummingbird that are fairly common in central New Mexico during breeding season: the Black-chinned Hummingbird, and the Broad-tailed Hummingbird. But since we can’t tell which one it is, we can’t add it to our list.

crow with cigaretteAnother bird makes an appearance during this part of the book, but it’s one we’ve seen before, though never quite like this. Francisco, to deal with the boredom of stalking his beloved Caridad, is smoking a lot of cigarettes. And he’s concerned that the crows will give away his hiding spot because they keep swooping down to pick up his cigarette butts, which they then take up to the electrical wires to smoke!

I’d never really heard of crows smoking cigarettes before, but a search led me to several videos on YouTube of crows doing just that! I also found several news stories about anti-littering campaigns that actually teach the crows to pick up cigarette butts and deposit them in special machines that give the crows a (presumably healthier) treat in return. It sounds like a great concept, but some wicked part of my mind is envisioning crows dive-bombing smokers to get the butts!cigarette butt collector

StarlingOne other bird that makes an appearance–brief, but telling–is the starling. During the section about the chemical plant that Fe works at, this bird is among the signs that the factory is having an effect on not just the health of the workers, but also the local environment.

And meanwhile, most of the people that surrounded Fe didn’t understand what was slowly killing them, too, or didn’t want to think about it, or if they did, didn’t know what to do about it anyway and went on like that, despite dead cows in the pasture, or sick sheep, and that one week late in winter when people woke up each morning to find it raining starlings. Little birds dropped dead in mid-flight, hitting like Superball hail on roofs, collecting in yards and streets, and falling on your head if you didn’t look out.

The European starling is often seen as a bit of a “junk” bird–it is, as the name says, of European descent, but was brought over on ships with the colonizers and invaded the New World much as the European settlers did–a widespread avian invader.
black vultureOne last bird mentioned in So Far From God is the zopilote (in Spanish) or black vulture. This one isn’t a literal bird seen in the book, but rather Doña Felicia’s description of Francisco, dressed all in black and wasting away with unrequited love for Caridad.

Her godson was thinner than usual, and in those black clothes he always wore he looked more and more like a zopilote, about ready to fly up and circle above dying prey.

We won’t add this one to our life list, but I had to include this great character description!


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