Birds, Birds and More Birds


Black Capped Chickadee Action Montage
Creative Commons License photo credit: anolobb

Birds. We have birds. I categorize them into several groups: resident, transient and migratory, with some crossover between groups (nothing in the world of nature is really cut and dried). The first group consists of the familiar avian species like jays, woodpeckers, sparrows and quail. They hang around all year, cadging snacks from the dogs, the chickens, the cow and us. The woodpeckers drill about a million holes a year, many of them in the sides of wooden buildings, and stuff them with acorns. Since they only work on the outside wall, it’s fairly common for them to try to shove an acorn into a hole that already has an acorn in it. The woodpecker doesn’t realize that in doing so, it knocks the first acorn onto the floor inside, where it is retrieved by a ground squirrel which sees no reason to collect acorns if the woodpeckers will do it for him. The jays, especially the brilliant cobalt blue mountain jays with their black crested heads, are the cheeky, noisy neighbors nobody wants to live near. They hassle the woodpeckers, which are peaceful, congenial little birds that live in sedate communistic colonies. Opportunists one and all, the jays will rip open unattended or uncovered feed sacks, steal cat food, dog food and chicken feed, and just love to yell at the top of their voices when you’re trying to sleep late or take a nap. But they also have a surprisingly sweet conversational voice that I’ve heard a few times when one was hopping around in the trees outside the living room window.

Transients, on the other hand, don’t live with us year round. One group shows up in the early spring. Among these are the robins, dodging around like broken field runners as they search for worms in the damp grass; orioles, flashing orange and black in the oak trees as they weave their horsehair nests. The winter transients include the juncos and towhees, which move down from the higher elevations as the weather gets cold. Juncos in particular are friendly little birds, quite happy to congregate near humans, especially if the humans happen to spill such delicacies as grain. Robins also show up again in the fall, as they move southward from the more northern areas where they have nested. This group, however, includes many juveniles instead of the bright red-breasted males so common in February.

Then there are the migrants. Some are true migrants, like the cranes which pass over in spring and fall, with their odd, mournful calls; rising in lazy circles like a spinning top as they fly slowly north or south. Not for them the arrowed wedge of the Canada geese, intent on a destination. Some of the geese are true migrants, stopping over for a day or two at our ponds and pasture to rest and replenish. Then they go on, to Mexico in the winter or Alaska in the summer. But a few come back every year to nest, braving coyotes, bobcats, foxes and skunks who like a goose egg now and then.

I picked up my birdwatching tendencies from my mother, who was fond of activities that required little physical effort. The family joke was that my father’s attitude toward life was “Let’s get out and DO SOMETHING about it.” My mother, on the other hand, took the position of “Let’s wait until it gets here.” I have a little of both in my makeup, which means I tend to sandwich my birdwatching activities in between things like unloading hay, gardening or milking the cow. A quick break to watch the birds always send me back refreshed to my labors.

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