Arsenic in my omelette? Animal instincts + French vocabulary you won't find in a textbook (like the slang word for concierge...)
Update from Kristi + Rester dans les parages = to stick around

From huppes to rapaces--birds in our French garden, les oiseaux dans le sud de la France

seagul gabian moette goeland
Un gabian strutting across the table on our front porch. Read to the end for all the useful French words and expressions.

Today's Word: s'envoler

   : to fly away, to take flight; to take off, to be blown away

Hear Jean-Marc read the following in French and in English.
Si tu te sers de la liberté en échange d'autre chose, comme l'oiseau, elle s'envolera. If you use freedom in exchange for something else, like the bird, it will fly away. --Gao Xingjian (émigré to Paris, Nobel Prize for literature)

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
"Freedom is for the birds." That's a funny title for today's musing, given "for the birds" means anything from "worthless" to "not important". No wonder birdwatching is less popular these days than surfing the net or social etiquette or wearing the right dress (stuff I think about. More about that later).

Mysteriously, the moment I chose "birds" as the subject of today's post...the most exotic oiseau in Provence paid a visit to our garden! I had just sat down for a solo lunch on our front porch, which overlooks the wild garden when I recognized those white and black zebra wings and that impressive crest sur la tête. I'll never forget the first time I saw une huppe after it landed on our pétanque court back in Les Arcs-sur-Argens. Quelle curiosité! I have only seen a few over the years and had I been eating lunch inside I never would have seen this animal diurne as it alighted on the diagonal trunk of our pepper tree (in the opening photo, you see the weeping branches of the faux-poivrier).

A hoopoe. Trapped in its "bec" a potato bug (good for hoopoes bad for chickens??). By Artemy Voikhansky

(And now, a brief interlude in time to list some birds in our neighborhood, and where we see them)

le martinet = swift (seen in the air this time of year)
le rouge-gorge = robin redbreast (seen in our Judas tree)
le corbeau = crow, raven (the gigantic parasol pines across the street)
la pie = magpie (struts around yard, often seen in the mulberry tree, eating!)
la mésange = chickadee (hedges)
la hirondelle = swallow (in the air)
le flamant rose = flamingo (rare in our area, spotted on the seashore)
le pouillot fitis = willow warbler (not sure, but I hear they exist here...)
le merlin noire = merlin (parasol pines? Am I confusing them with those crows?)

Tourterelle dove

As I sit typing this post, I hear the familiar screech of a green perruche and am transported back to a few summers ago... Mom shouting for us to hurry outside--a bunch of parrots were flying around our palm tree, attracted to the bright orange dates growing there. How did these exotic creatures end up in the Land of the Mistral? Were they escapees from a neighboring villa? Fugitives from the zoo in Toulon? In the days that followed, I quizzed everyone from the Jehovah’s Witnesses who regularly ring our doorbell to the municipal meter maids (trained to spot freeloaders!). Thanks to these accidental informants, I learned a lot about la perruche à collier (Psittacula krameri), including a few things we immigrants have common…(more here).

Just last night, Mom, Smokey, and I were sitting beside the cherry tree surrounded by doves (two or three in Jules's lap) when Mom noted that what is usual to us (all the soft gray tourterelles in our garden) is spectacular to others. As natives of Arizona, living in The Sonoran Desert, we enjoyed the roadrunners, quail, and hummingbirds (which do not exist in France), but seagulls were something never seen before! These days they are ubiquitous in our seaside town. (The locals here call them "les gabians.")

Les cormorans

Speaking of birds by the sea, the cormorant is another species in our voisinage. I see the same couple every day, in one of the coves along the boardwalk. Ils sont là, tes amis! There are your friends! Jean-Marc always says, when we walk by. There is a certain comfort in seeing the same birds in the same place at the same time, every day.  

Of everyday birds we can count on pigeons! They left the boardwalk and moved into our yard after the first lockdown. Three confinements later, gone are the restaurants (and all the savory scraps along le trottoir...). Now all our doves (and our chicken) must share seeds with these economic migrants. Speaking of hungry birds this brings us to a sad parenthesis: birds of prey (les rapaces in French). I am certain they are what snatched up two more of our chickens in the last months. After learning owls (les hiboux or les chouettes) can swoop in and carry off a hen, I began to suspect Le Petit-Duc, whose evening cry à la metronome is unmistakable. On second thought, and after talking to a venerable paysanne who lives nearby, it had to be une buse (a buzzard or a hawk). 

That leaves us with the biggest bird in our garden, our hen, Edie. We are doing our best to protect her. As for protecting all the other birds in our neighborhood, they say it is important not to use pesticides--and if you want to attract more birds into your yard, keep a shallow bowl of water, food, and put out a few more birdhouses. I'm going to purchase some wooden nichoirs at the next chance. Tell me, what are your secrets to enjoying the presence of birds? What benefits have you experienced? My smartphone informs me I've spent less time on the internet last week. Isn't that freeing? Now if I only I could quit ruminating about what to wear for a few upcoming social events. After three lockdowns I'm more comfortable watching birds than dressing up. I wish, like the hoopoe, I could just wear zebra wings every day (and for fancy occasions une crête sur la tête).

Kristi hens
Please consider following my Instagram account -- apart from the photos I post of our area in France, it is a good backup. Should this journal experience a glitch, you will always be informed of a new post via Instagram  


s'envoler = to fly away
un oiseau = bird
sur la tête = on the head
une huppe = hoopoe bird
la pétanque = boules
quelle curiosité = what an oddity
diurne = diurnal, daytime
le bec = beak, bill
le faux-poivrier = "false pepper tree" (schinus molle)
la perruche = parrot
la tourterelle = turtledove
le voisinage = neighborhood
le trottoir = sidewalk, pavement
le rapace = bird of prey, raptor
un hibou = owl (can also mean "grouchy person"
la chouette = owl
le petit-duc scops = scops owl
le paysan, la paysanne = farmer, peasant
la buse = buzzard, hawk

pigeons in tree

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Lynn at Southern Fried French

I saw a hoopee just this week, only the second time I have seen one in 18 years of living in France. They are wonderful! And in Saint Jean cap Ferrat near Nice there is a little flock of small, colorful parrots who live in a tree in the village, we love seeing them. Also I feed the pigeons here in Beaune on my windowsill, to amuse the cat. We have gotten to know the 5 of them, they are all different colors and they have different personalities. They have names now.

Leslie Layton

J’aime ça!


Kristin - You're sitting in exactly the right place for the photo to look like you're wearing chicken wire lunettes. :-)

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Rhonda, I had to go back and look. That is funny! 


My favorite 20th century Italian poet, Eugenio Montale, wrote a poem about the hoopoe (in Italian "l'upapa") that has always charmed me. It begins -- very roughly translated:

Upapa,cheery bird, slandered by poets, twisting your crest over the pole in the chicken yard and turning like a weathercock in the wind. Hoopoe, herald of spring, it's as if for you time stands still and February no longer dies.

I've never seen one and would love to. Your photo is beautiful.

Fun fact: Montale won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975.

Kristin Espinasse

Passante, Thank you for the translated poem. Wonderful! Re the photo, I did not take that one, and missed the opportunity to photograph the visiting hoopoe after leaving my phone inside. Grrr! 


Had no idea. Hummingbirds wete not found in France! What about rest of Europe?

Valerie Porter

We have chickens too and at night, we put them in the hen house which is covered on top with a wooden roof. That keeps out the owls. If we forget, we have problems with the bandit raccoons! Great post. merci milles!


We have bird feeders in our Taos, New Mexico back yard (which is slowly being planted), and a new one in the front walled-in garden. We attract Red-wing blackbirds, ravens, magpies, doves, & of course pigeons. Out front we see many smaller birds, including sparrows, black-eyed juncos,finches, & some others. Both yards have bird baths that during the winter months are not used much!
Now we are awaiting our 1st hummingbirds, and at 7000 ft elevation, they come after it warms up. We hit 73 deg yesterday! We love our bird visitors.


Understand the comment about three lockdowns and lack of comfort in dressing up.
I was at the prefecture office today and saw a gal in sneakers and thought she must be American! Then we went to Auchan Mall which only had Auchan open (quelle surprise) and saw almost everyone wearing casual our second year of this unpleasantness, shoes have definitely changed in smaller town France!

Chris Allin

Dear Kristi,
Such an enlightening post! We enjoy feeding our backyard birds. It has been a family passion for many years with so many stories to tell.
Heart wrenching to hear about your lost hens. We also have to watch out for hawk predators. I actually saved a squirrel once from being carried off by a small hawk!
It can be so easy to become absorbed in the avian and animal activity around us. I do hope Edie stays safe!

Your posts are universal. No matter where they are,
your readers seem to be able to relate. One reason why
your stories are so engaging...

Kristin Espinasse

Chris, Thank you for such encouraging words. And bravo for saving that squirrel. Everything must have happened so quickly!


Our dear Kristi,
I completely agree with Chris.Your posts are universal!
And your words(your pictures!)never fail to give us pause to look around us and find ( and appreciate!) our own blessings.
We had a hummingbird nest ,with mommy and two babies inside.Then mommy disappeared.(apparently the victim of a hawk) We were desperate to help the babies, who were so small and vunerable.Rod (my hubbby) managed to locate a bird lady with a bird sanctuary.He dislodged the entire nest, including babies, put it in the car and met her nearby(she arrived complete with emergency vehicle with siren on top!!)Long story short: they grew up to happily ever after and to the best of our knowledge, are still thriving.
Only wish all such stories had such good endings!!
Thank you for reminding me of this!!
You always make my day!!
Natalia. Xo


Bonjour, Kristin,
M’y bird story is about a bird of prey, the falcon. Yesterday morning our emergency response team assisted
in a vaccine clinic in downtown Monterey. I saw a man on
the rooftop with something dark and indistinguishable on his
arm. I asked the incident commander whether it was a TV news person or perhaps a security person. I was wrong on both accounts. It was a falconer whom the city employs to keep the
seagull population manageable. Later, the falcon and falconer came down and paraded along the long line of patient people waiting for their vaccine. They were a welcome relief from the past time of nose in the phone and literally provided some “heads up” and a “lift” to many.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
Love your post today! What an interesting bird! I googled and listened to their call and the female has a gland that smells like rotting meat and she spreads the brown liquid from the gland on her feathers and sometimes on her eggs!
I have lots of nest boxes on our property and right now have 5 active Bluebird nests and 3 Tree Swallow nests. I also have a Meadowlark couple nesting in our field with all the grass! I try to plant native plants for the birds and wildlife. I also provide lots of layers in my garden...trees, shrubs, grasses and have a water source for wildlife! We definitely stay away from pesticides!

Diana Barron

Hi Kristi
I still love your blog after 7 years!
All is well in the world of Domaine Rouge Bleu and you are certainly not forgotten there. I am about to get a gorgeous golden retriever puppy, who will be visiting Rouge Bleu frequently, so not too much changes there!
When will your latest book be available to buy as a book? I have all your other books and look forward to buying your latest.
Lots of love Diana

Kristin Espinasse

Hello Diana, I am so touched by your note. Thank you! You are going to love having a golden retriever. Excellent choice! Smokey (who turns 12 in August) sends his very best. He has a full time job now (looking after my Mom (who is doing great). 

Our memoir is finished, but it is not ready to print. We are waiting for a response from  an agent. Fingers crossed.

Sending lots of love,

Kathleen Bidney

Hello Kristi,
So many of my friends and I have bird feeders. They are so much fun the watch and boy do they devour the seed. I only use safflower and thistle and then one with peanuts. I have robins, flycatchers, finches (Golden, House and Purple and others), sparrows, warblers, cardinals, blue birds, orioles, mourning doves, swallows, titmice, wrens, videos, red bellied, downy and red-headed woodpeckers and of course hummingbirds for which I put out other feeders especially for them. They constantly chase each other away from the feeder, so I have one at the back of the house and one in front. We have crows (they are so noisy) and hawks which constantly fly over. I wish they would eliminate the chipmunks, who eat holes in the liner to our waterfall and dig up my yard. And of course Canadian geese which go from pond to pond and make a mess of the grass. I think that they poop more than they eat.
We had goldfish and Koi in our pond and a great blue heron ate half of them and a minx ate the rest. So we don’t like the water birds.
Bird watching is fun but it maybe more fun to dress up and go out. My husband and I will be going out to dinner for Mother’s Day and I will agonize about what to wear, trying on several outfits - we will be outside, so it could be cold, cool or just right. What is a girl/women to do? Oh, my!

Peace, Kathleen

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Kathleen,
Thank you for sharing all the birds in your garden. Wow! So many different types. 
Enjoy your evening out with Dean. Happy Mother’s Day!

Judy Feldman

Hi Kristi,
Love this post! Makes me want to become a bird watcher. Your photos are wonderful, as usual, and inspire so many painting ideas. The hoopee is amazing. Have never seen one here in AZ.
Bisous, Judy

Ellen A Johnson

That is so funny you noticed that. When I saw that photo, I thought she DID have glasses on!


I love watching birds... my cats and I sit and watch them regularly and while I am typing now, one is chirping away. The other day I looked outside and spotted a little mouse... coming out from under the garden shed to eat the bird food and then scurry back again.
It reminds me of when I lived in England ... a lifetime another life... we had put out a bird feeder... happy to see that it was being used but we never saw a bird. Then one day we watched a very acrobatic squirrel access it from a most peculiar position, upside down... reaching out with his little claws and emptying the bird feeder.

I think these are the pleasures of life... the richness of Little moments... the time to enjoy them. It's like a lost art I fear. I am reminded to be ever so grateful that I can do this... that I am not sitting in some pointless little cubicle office wasting time and wasting a very beautiful life. Nature and Simplicity. I think that's the good life for me. Good luck with the dress!


Kristi, I love this post! I was just telling a friend that even after nearly four years in France, I'm far too ignorant of the birds, which has the effect of making me feel that much more an outsider. In Colorado we had so many fabulous birds that a pair of binoculars had a permanent home in the kitchen window sill. Behind my rental house here in Occitanie, there is a row of very tall evergreens (not parasol pines), which house all manner of avian wonderfulness. I videoed a small murmuration of starlings that all flew out at once; I heard the call of a grand-duc OVER a movie I was watching this winter (meaning windows closed), and now there are nesting hoopoes who call regularly. I've decided that wherever I live here in France, I'll need to have a few of these trees in the garden. Thanks for the timely and fabulous post, and for the bird names!


Our hens are in an impenetrable coop every night. They go in a dusk and we close the door and let them out in the morning. Today is a sad day for us because last night a red fox was watching them just before time for them to go in. It killed our precious Betty and Flossie. We live in a wild place. It’s hard to keep them safe. So sorry to hear about your cute girls.

Kristin Espinasse

Very sorry to hear this Adrienne. 💔

Kristin Espinasse

Lynne, I love your phrase about those trees *which house all manner of avian wonderfulness* 💕 

Donna Balmat-Jantz

I long to move to France, but one of the reasons I hesitate is the fact that I would not be able to see hummingbirds in my own yard, or anywhere in Europe. Living in Southern California they are here year round. I spend hours watching them do their thing. I'm working on hand held feeders lately. I would miss it 😕.


My husband and I moved to a house in the hills near Vicenza, Italy two years ago and have developed a daily habit of bird-watching. Last year we were blessed during the lockdown to be able to watch an entire family of hoopoes grow and enjoy a yard full of grasshoppers, beetles and more... They are truly magnificent and have returned this year as well! We also have two kinds of woodpeckers and a myriad of small falcons in addition to smaller birds - blackbirds, swallows, magpies, European jays with brilliant blue stripes on their wings, mourning doves, cuckoos, cardinals, red-backed shrike, and more. But the hoopoe remains our very favorite.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks for sharing, Lorienne. I can picture a beautiful place in the hills of Italy, filled with birds. The image is so peaceful. 

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