Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ringing the Birdie Bell

We all have that one bird feeder we love; it might not be the most attractive, or the most popular, but it is just our favorite to watch. For me, it is my Birdie Bell, and it has hosted a wide range of species over the years. Most recently, a female downy woodpecker has discovered the molded seed bells it holds and practices her best impression of a bell clapper to munch.

Other birds that have enjoyed the musical treats of the bell include...
 At times, more than one species will be busy on the bell, despite its smaller size, and they typically get along well as they wriggle into a good position to nick a seed or two. From my perspective, it is always entertaining to watch as a bird clings to the side and stretches to reach the seed, and some birds have cleverly figured out how to get inside the feeder and will perch as if in a jail cell while they enjoy a "last meal" easily and conveniently. Of course, escape is no problem!

It is harder to get out into the field in the winter, and this is the time of year when our feeders may provide most of our birding enjoyment. I hope you have a feeder to enjoy just as much as I enjoy this one!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I love all my backyard birds and cherish the days an entire flock comes to feed (never mind the decimation to my seed stocks), but it's the birds I can recognize as individuals that really become noticeable and heartwarming.

One such individual has been visiting for a few weeks; a house finch I've christened Droopy for the right wing he holds more loosely (see the photo; poor quality, but the best I could get to show his affliction). I suspect some type of nerve damage is the culprit for this bird's distinction, as he shows no other signs of illness and is otherwise healthy and perky. Though often alone - and recent studies have revealed how house finches, in particular, are unforgiving of ill or injured birds - he feeds well and is quite mobile, hopping about the deck and flying without discernible difficulty, if the tiniest bit lopsided. He seems quite content to rest often, but perks up as needed when disturbed and is well able to stay out of harm's way.

Too often we only notice individual birds once they are too drastically ill to be helped - swollen eyes, excessive lameness, obvious pox, etc. - but occasionally we see a bird that can stand out to us. That recognition gives us the chance to learn that bird as an individual, to study its behavior and discover its quirks, to smile when we see it and to miss it when it doesn't visit. These opportunities are rare, but should be treasured.

All my birds are friends, but it is nice to have a friend known by name and one whose company I can look forward to recognizing. I haven't seen him about in a few days, but I wish Droopy well and look forward to his next visit.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Striking Out

This hasn't been a very birdy few weeks for me, as other issues have required focus and time to head into the field has been scarce. Still, when multiple reports of bohemian waxwings surfaced locally, pinning the birds in one spot less than an hour away day after day, I had to take the chance.

Unfortunately, the day I headed to "the U" (University of Utah) to scour fruit trees for the foraging flock proved to be quite chilly and windy, and very few birds were to be found. A flock of rock pigeons was calmly foraging on the ground and it was fascinating to watch them gradually make their way around President's Circle, taking startled flight with every car that passed. After wandering among buildings looking for other possible hideouts for the waxwings, I did find a particularly cooperative black-capped chickadee that was holding a free concert with his liquid warble, though he wouldn't deign to pose for photos. The only other bird in the vicinity was a lone American robin, the only bird perched in the branches where I'd hoped to find the waxwings.

Too often, we believe birds to be reliable fixtures whenever they've been regularly reported, but as a birding friend once told me, "birds have wings and they will use them." Obviously, the waxwings used their wings and didn't manage to fly into my sights, but I'll keep scanning the listservs in the hopes of another sighting to bring a spark of birding into my hectic schedule.