It’s probably not surprising that, as a birder, I occasionally dream about birds. Almost always, the birds I see in my dreams are unidentifiable. Instead of dreaming I saw actual tanagers, buntings, or grosbeaks, I often dream of seeing some weird creature I’ve never seen in books: the kind of creature you’d say you’d never dreamed of.
In these dreams, I’m always without a field guide, so I spend most of the dream staring at the unusual bird and reciting its field marks to myself, forcing myself to remember a combination of colors that seems so striking, you’d think it would be easy to identify later. In nearly all instances, though, I wake up without remembering exactly what I saw. Was it an orange bird with green wings and a purple head? Or was it a purple bird with green wing-bars and an orange rump? Whether or not I actually remember any of the details, though, the simple fact remains: the birds of my dreams don’t exist. Even if I could remember their field marks, I’ll never find them in any field guide because they represent an idea that doesn’t exist outside of dreams.
One night last week, I dreamed I saw an unbelievably bright, lemon-colored bird, the size and stockiness of a large sparrow. It literally glowed in the tree it was in, its plumage similar in color to the reflective, Day-Glo vests that runners wear after dark to avoid getting hit by cars. More incredible, though, was the texture of its individual feathers, which were curly, giving the bird the nubbled appearance of a close-cropped poodle or short-tufted Berber rug. In my dream, the astonishing nature of this bird’s plumage reminded me of the overlapping, crowded and curled petals of dry hydrangea flowers, leading me to repeat to myself over and over, astonished, this most remarkable of field marks: “It looks like a yellow hydrangea-head! It looks like a yellow hydrangea-head!” And then I woke up.