We all have an indelible memory by now of what it has been like to be in lockdown, to be in the midst of a global disruption.
Mine will always involve birds, specifically the crimson rosellas that alight several times a day in our courtyard, to snack, preen, chat and take stock.
When it became clear that lockdown - the one including schools - would go on for weeks on end, we went and bought a bird feeder. The kids and I hung it in the crepe myrtle in our front courtyard, and filled it with seed.
We only had to wait a few days before the birds began appearing - regular flashes of that incredible crimson borne of nature, unable to be replicated, even by the most enthusiastic blends of paints on craft paper. There are magpies, too, and crested pigeons, the odd noisy miner and, every now and again, a few fairy wrens pecking among the fallen seeds. It's a regular old tea party out there.
Meanwhile, on my early morning runs, I've been paying attention to the birds waking up around me. For the sake of it, I decided the other day to count how many separate species I saw. There were 15. I find this fact, coupled with the daily courtyard congregation, indescribably soothing.
Jennifer Ackerman is also being comforted daily by the birds around her in the early hours. The acclaimed American science writer has been rising before dawn and sitting on the veranda of her home in Virginia, listening to the dawn chorus.
"It's the most soothing thing," she says.
"It's this sense that birds are going about their business, they're finding mates, they're building nests, they're broadcasting about their territory, whatever, it's just a really soothing kind of phenomenon."
Her latest book, The Bird Way - A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think, has landed at just the right moment. People are paying attention to birds more than they ever had before. Ackerman's last book, The Genius of Birds, was a bestseller, in the best and most surprising way.
Scientists don't often expect their life's work to strike a chord, but birds are having something of a moment.
Still, the moment itself is having an even more intensified moment, what with everyone at home, and finally paying attention to their surroundings in a way they haven't done for years. People like me are buying bird feeders and counting species and googling local bird societies. We're all keen to learn more about the fascinating creatures that dart around the gardens and streets, oblivious to the horrifying world events and barely stopping to wonder why the humanfolk look so glum.
"A dawn chorus is also joyous," Ackerman says.
"There's some controversy about why the birds sing at this time of day, but one of the theories is that they're saying, 'well, I survived the night! Here we go!'"
In other words, as Ackerman tells me over Skype, it turns out that publishing a new bird book during a pandemic was a stroke of genius on the part of her publishers.
"It's hard to see this pandemic as positive, it's so awful and it's making so many people suffer, but I think the little ray of light that I see is this new attention to our backyards and our parks and the green spaces around us and the things that live in them," she says.
"I take heart from that."
And, as luck would have it, the world of birds is still a bundle of fascinating mysteries, even to the people who study them for a living. For this book, Ackerman travelled all over the world, including to Japan, Alaska, Austria, Central America and, of course Australia, where, she says, she spent many weeks marvelling over many of the birds we take for granted. She almost lost her mind the first time she saw a galah, for example, and just can't get enough of our vindictive swooping magpies.
Some of the most fundamental characteristics of birds began here, and it's where, she says, you can find some of the most extreme bird behaviour.
Her book's central thesis is that birds are as varied as they are numerous - once you've seen one bird, you have by no means seen them all.
There's the minute hummingbird, and the mighty cassowary. There are flightless birds, and birds that are rarely off the wing. Some migrate across entire continents, going for years without touching land. Others stick to the single garden. The book is filled with astonishing facts and encounters across the world.
Above all, she wants to emphasise, many birds are smart, organised and complex; "birdbrain" really ought to be a compliment, not a put-down.
"Now we understand that it doesn't have to do with brain size, it's about the density of neurons, and it turns out that birds have brains that are very dense with neurons," she says.
And our understanding of how they move through the world, how they sense the world around them, is growing yearly.
They sing complex songs, sometimes in duet. They see a world saturated with colour - in a way that makes humans seem virtually colour-blind. All have a sense of smell; some seabirds can create odour maps in their heads of entire ocean-scapes.
And many have keen navigational skills, and are highly sensitive to changes in light, air pressure and weather.
"Birds are actually attuned to the locations of the sun and stars, the magnetic fields, a whole array of signs and indicators in the environment, many of which we're probably just not aware of at all," she says.
She's also fascinated by the way some birds collaborate, and communicate life plans with each other. She spent time in Canberra, at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, observing alarm calls being sent out by New Holland honeyeaters, warning of snakes, hawks, cuckoos and other predators that threaten the teensy fairy wrens, pardalotes and thornbills.
"We've always thought of nature kind of as red in tooth and claw, it's very much competitive, it's all about survival of the fittest, dog eat dog. And it turns out that many kinds of birds cooperate and they collaborate and they work together in quite extraordinary ways," she says.
Some male birds work together to create their courtship displays - an astonishing thought for an activity that seems inherently competitive. And the northern ibis take turns leading flocks on long migrations, so that no bird becomes too tired to finish the journey.
And there's the greater ani - one of her personal favourites, which cooperate in groups that are otherwise unrelated to each other.
"They're just up to a dozen unrelated birds and they work together really expertly to find a nesting site, build a nest, to lay their eggs together, warm the eggs, raise their young until they fledge. And the question is, how do these birds coordinate their activities?" she says.
"It turns out they have this incredible phenomenon of a sports team huddle, where they get together several times a day, they stand in a circle, they put their bills in the middle and they chorus together and they start to synchronise their chorusing."
Of course, for every wide-eyed homebody like me with a newfound appreciation for bird life, there are many hundreds of hardcore bird lovers. Much like birds themselves, these range from the twitchers, tickers or listers - the ones who chase rarities and record them - to the scientists, conservationists, and weekend enthusiasts with binoculars.
Canberra, spoilt for choice when it comes to rosellas and cockatoos, has its own society, the Canberra Ornithologists Group, which has been tracking birds, meeting, discussing, enthusing and generally appreciating the city's bird life for decades.
Member Geoffrey Dabb says he falls somewhere in the middle - a general interest, keeps up with the science, likes collecting bird books.
And while he's not a twitcher or lister by any stretch, he does enjoy tuning into the big news events, Canberra-style.
"The current sensation, although it's a little bit stale now, is a very rare duck that turned up at Jerrabomberra wetlands, the northern shoveler, a bird you only get in the northern hemisphere," he says.
"It's quite a colourful duck, and it's unmistakable when you look at it, quite strikingly marked. When that first turned up, the shores of the wetlands were lined with photographers. That was last September. Then it went away and it suddenly reappeared, but because it was the second appearance, there was less interest in it.
"Once you're a ticker or a lister, or you're photographing rare species, they're vagrants - windblown birds become your main pursuit."
He also likes to take photos - he and the thousands of others who have taken to capturing bird images in the 20 years since digital photography became available.
One of these is David Flannery, urban architect and current chair of the ACT Heritage Council. He's been photographing birds for more than 15 years and posting his images on Instagram (@flannerydavid). When I catch him on the phone, he is just taking delivery of a nesting box with a two-way mirror that he plans to hang on one of his windows.
"It is addictive - it's the thrill of a chase, I guess," he says, of his longtime habit of carrying his giant lens with him whenever he goes for a walk.
"Once you've had a couple of successful days you go out looking for more and different species. It's nice to get a range."
He says his favourite is the tawny frogmouth, of which sightings are rare.
"This year I have seen the same pair I saw last year in Watson sitting together on the very same tree! Good and faithful marriages last for many years, apparently."
It's these apparent emotions of birds that really gets to me. Do birds grieve? Do they like the rain? Are they grateful for the seed I'm leaving out for them?
There's so much to know, so much to learn - an entire world running parallel to our current messed-up reality here in the human sphere. Ackerman says she could write about birds forever, that she and other scientists are barely on the cusp of understanding it all.
"We're really at a time where we're just beginning to understand, or trying to understand the minds of other animals, and birds have really been a big piece of that progress," she says.
"What about emotions? What about consciousness? Those are really big questions. It's hard enough trying to pin down intelligence and consciousness in our own species, much less trying to probe it in others.
"I do feel like it has endless wonder, and it's really the wonder and the joy that I pursue. I get so much spiritual sustenance from discovering how the natural world works, and birds are just wondrous creatures."
- The Bird Way - A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think, by Jennifer Ackerman, is published by Scribe.