The Yes-Yes Bird

Our first spring in this house we heard a bird saying “yes yes.” It was a metallic, almost mechanical-sounding trill, “yes yes.” We had no idea what bird it was, so naturally we started calling it the yes yes bird. I asked birder friends, no one could think of a bird that said yes yes. I Googled yes yes bird, bird call sounds like yes yes, and anything else I could think of, all to no avail.

And still they came to our yard, although we never saw them. Their call would come from high up in the Douglas firs and cedars, and we never saw so much as a feather. Some years we’d say “wow, there are a lot of yes yes birds this year.” One year we never heard any, and worried about whether climate change had driven our yes yes birds further north.

Then, this spring, I heard one that was very close. I’d suddenly had it with the not knowing, I wanted to see that yes yes bird and I wanted to see him now. I grabbed a pair of truly terrible binoculars and went outside. Finally I was able to track my yes yes bird into the crabapple tree, and I saw it. It was a spotted towhee, I was pretty sure, but remember, I had lamentable binoculars in my hand instead of a good camera. So I went in and found images of a spotted towhee online, and yes, that’s our yes yes bird.

So I formulated this quasi-scientific cockamamie theory that since we only hear them in the spring, they must be migrating through here then. And promptly forgot all about it. Until yesterday, while I was sitting right here at this very computer, a flashing and fluttering in the madrona outside my window caught my eye. Hey, wow, there was a yes yes bird right outside my window, flitting around like mad from branch to branch. My camera was on my desk, I grabbed it, and got exactly one shot before he flew off. A shot taken through the dirty window and the window screen, so hurrah camera. That’s the shot you see above, the one where he’s looking right at the camera, as if he’s saying “Look, it’s me, I’m the yes yes bird you’ve been seeking.”

He didn’t really say that, of course. In fact, he didn’t say anything. It’s November, and in November the yes yes bird says nothing nothing at all. His agreeable song is a springtime fling thing.

I can understand that, I don’t feel like saying yes yes all the time myself. The election season makes me say no no. Shel’s cancer makes me say help help. It’s easy to fall into the ambient existential anxiety, “la morosité ambiente.”  But I’m trying to get myself more in a yes yes kind of place. And since I love the holiday season, I mean to immerse myself in that source of warmth and cheer.

In French there’s a verb, positiver. It means to be optimistic, to maintain a positive feeling. It doesn’t translate exactly, but it kind of means “be more of a yes yes person.” If I were in France right now someone would tell me “il faut positiver” to mean be more yes yes-ish. Funny how it took a silent American bird telling me for me to get the message.

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6 Comments on “The Yes-Yes Bird”

  1. don Says:

    yes yes, thank you

  2. Sharon Says:

    What a fortunate shot!


  3. Surely, that’s a robin of very doubtful parentage! Perhaps a mother who kept saying “Yes yes”?

  4. lynnatlinenpress Says:

    Love the blog with it’s levels of interconnected meanings. I’ve been feeling a bit November No No the last couple of days. Glad I have company.

  5. Nancy Says:

    I don’t think I’ve heard any towhees sing – must be the wrong time of year when I see them – but my husband and I have adopted the term “towhee two-step” for the way they scratch for seeds on the ground: a quick jump forward and back with both feet, turning leaves and twigs over in a synchronized flash.

    As for “positiver”: there are certain words that didn’t migrate to the English language that should have, and that is one of them. It reminds me in a way of Beverly Sills, who once said that she doesn’t think of herself as a happy person, but that she is a cheerful one. I thought that an interesting comment in my 20’s. Now I think of it as useful.


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