Signs of Life at Denver International Airport


Birds_denverSo there you are in Denver, stuck in the United terminal while you wait for your long-delayed flight to take off.  You’re in standard airport mode: phone plugged into a charger, feet propped up on a suitcase, book in hand.  You haven’t been outdoors since 4 a.m. Eastern time.  You live in a tightly sealed world of plastic chairs and gray carpet, and you’re starting to wonder if you’ll ever get out.

Then something flutters down from the ceiling and lands under the Departures board.  You look up, wondering if you imagined it, and then three more things flutter down after it. There are birds in the airport.

These sparrows didn’t just arrive yesterday. Their lookout perch atop a vinyl banner advertising ski vacation packages is covered in bird shit. They’ve been here a while.

The birds make their living picking up after people like me.  A few crumbs, a couple grains of rice. They must get water somewhere. Maybe they’ve even built a nest from discarded boarding passes and bits of string from luggage tags.

It’s hard to describe the effect that three or four little birds can have on a group of bored, numbed-out, jet-lagged passengers.  Everyone at the gate looked up and smiled when the birds arrived.  A few of us glanced up at the rafters, and at the gray square of sky showing through a skylight beyond that, and we contemplated the curious lives of these sparrows.   How did they get in?  Are they free to leave anytime, or are they trapped here?  What is the airport’s official position on the avian population?

The sparrows have inspired this poem by Brian Doyle (editor of Portland magazine and all-round fine writer) called "To the Sparrow Inside the Terminal Near Gate B25 at the Denver Airport."  It comes from his collection Epiphanies & Elegies and it begins:

"Hey little dude, good luck with that spring roll
Twice your size.  And beware the scary red sauce,
Which is from a galaxy far far away…."


  1. What is it about our culture that we’ve created so many antiseptic spaces that make people desperate for a glimpse of nature?

    I blame that post-World War II generation and their idea that progress was all about conquering nature.

    It’s time to just admit that we are all unhappy if there are no birds or plants to look at–and design public buildings accordingly.

  2. I was on my way through there to and from my New Year’s trip, and caught a couple of photos of my own. I agree — they are wonderful signs of life in an otherwise antiseptic space…although the mountain views aren’t half bad.

  3. There are birds living in the big box stores around here. A little easier to understand how they got in, but still weird to hear chirping when you’re contemplating gardening gloves.

  4. 5 little birds today at Gate B21 prompted me to buy a packet of peanut butter crackers for them. They loved the little treat!

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