Thursday, February 21, 2013

Birds I Miss

It hasn't been a very birdy time lately; the season is deeply entrenched in cold and scarcity, and the birds are making themselves scarce as well - as is any time I might have to venture outside my property lines to see what other birds might be in the area. So for now, my birding is mostly limited to the antics of the house sparrows as they compete for seed on the deck, feeders, and wherever I've sprinkled a little treat.

Honestly, I do love my house sparrows - I've never had the misfortune to witness their less savory sides, and many times they're the first or only feathered company I might have. Their colors are warmer and richer than many people realize, and their behavior can be just as entertaining as any other bird as they flit about with an excess of energy. But while I might enjoy their visits, at this time of year I'm missing the visits of some other guests who have been absent or much less conspicuous for months...
  • The relatively cautious black-headed grosbeak family that nips at the hulled sunflower seed.
  • The lovestruck antics of the Eurasian collared-doves eager to get busy anywhere and everywhere.
  • The scuttling scratches of a hungry covey of California quail at the feeders and in the grass.
  • The obsessive-compulsive peanut caching by western scrub-jays, including the meticulous hiding of any evidence of their stash.
  • The suspicious glances of the rufous hummingbirds as they sit on their swing, eyeballing the yard for any intruder to chase away.
I know all these birds will return - and more I hope - and I keep them in my heart until they do. But a birder's heart has a wide range and enough seed for all, so until the days warm and migration ensues, I'll continue to love my house sparrows all the same.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pretty Posing

I admit it, I'm a twitcher - always looking for my next lifer. Yet, too often we overlook the beauty of our far more common avian visitors, and once in awhile one still takes our breath away.

Earlier this week I was trying to get photos of an industrious black-capped chickadee (who was completely uninterested in sitting still for my amateur photography skills), when I noticed a far calmer, far more agreeable bird perched nearby - but it was "just" a house finch. But look closely - the rich strawberry wash on the head and breast, the feathers fluffed a touch to keep warm but still keeping the streaking clear and visible, the intelligence and curiosity in the eye. If I didn't stop to look, I'd have missed a striking, beautiful bird, and a wonderful photo to remind me of one of my favorite backyard guests. They may visit every day, and on nearly every feeder I stock, but there's nothing common about the beauty, joy, and entertainment backyard birds bring us. I'll be looking closer now!

What birds have you overlooked lately? Maybe one of the most common backyard birds in the United States,
or maybe just a bird that is common to you. Look closer, and you may be amazed at what you see!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Starling Stuff

A lot of birders cringe when European starlings appear at their feeders, but in this deep part of winter, I welcome their diversion. Not only is it wonderful to have another winged visitor, but one with such spritely energy and industriousness is inspiring when the winter doldrums settle in.

A week or two ago, a flock of starlings descended on the yard for a few minutes, focusing their attention on the bare patch of ground that had appeared on the south side of the neighbors' yard, just north of my kitchen window. Maybe they were finding insects, or unearthing seeds, or just exploring grass - where has it been for so long? - but every inch of the terrain came under their probing scrutiny. They were climbing and stumbling over one another in their rush to check another patch, yet none got agitated or annoyed; they just kept looking for stuff, as finding stuff is the goal of a starling's existence. A few ventured into my shadier and still snow-covered patch, including getting a sip at the heated bird bath, but within just a few minutes, they'd satisfied themselves in their treasure hunting and moved on to greener - and presumably more stuff-filled - pastures.

I'm sure my pastures will be greener soon, and seeing how the starlings make do so fabulously with so little, I'll be sure to make my yard even more bird-friendly so they have more to explore and more to find when they return. Stuff awaits!