Sunday, May 13, 2018

For the birds

One of the things handed down to me from my mother, no doubt through her DNA, was a fascination with bird watching.

I'm not a dedicated birder. I don't go out on weekends tromping through tick-infested fields or climbing impossible mountain trails, wearing binoculars and pith helmet, to track down some elusive species that only James Audubon was able to document.

On the contrary, I've set up a metal post on my backyard patio, where four bird feeders hang within easy view of my kitchen window (which is where our hummingbird feeder is attached). I can sit back in the comfort of my home, beverage in hand, watching birds compete for a place at the feeder.

Mom used to do this a lot. Sometimes she had feeders that had suction cups so you could attach them to the window, bringing the birds even closer to you. Except that the suction cups didn't hold forever and usually left permanent rings on the glass. A trade-off, I guess.

I'm content to use the feeder tree. Usually, we fill the feeder with wild bird seed, which is enough to attract the assorted wrens and sparrows on a regular basis.

A couple weeks ago, as the result of a store promotion at Wild Birds Unlimited in Winston-Salem, we won a free meal worm bell (Mmmm. Meal worms). I hung it on my feeder tree, and almost instantly, we had bluebirds (Sialia sialis). I hadn't seen a bluebird in years.

I also had a square meal worm cake (yummm), which I inserted into the cake holder, and Bingo!, we had catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis). In the meantime, our faithful wild bird feeder was still attracting the common finches and chickadees.

Suddenly, I wondered if word was getting out that the restaurant was open. Soon enough, the occasional bird I could not identify started showing up. I had to look at my copy of "The Birds of the Carolinas" to identify the tufted titmouse (Baelophus bicolor) that appeared. Then a brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) arrived. This is a fairly large bird that you would think would dominate the feeder, but he seems to get along well with others.

One day, I was working in the yard and saw a Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula). No, it wasn't Brooks Robinson.

I once saw an indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea), a true blue bird if ever there was one.

The birding was getting crazy. One of our feeders is filled with nyger, which almost exclusively attracts goldfinches (Carduelis tristis). These are comical birds. Our feeder is designed to where they have to hang upside down to peck for their nyger, and it's funny to watch. At first, I thought upside down was an odd way to view the world until I decided maybe it's the only way to see the world these days. Goldfinches actually might be on to something.

I have to say, robins are still some of my favorite birds. I was weeding the garden the other day, tilling the ground with my trusty mattock. Two robins (Turdis migratorius) landed in the freshly turned soil, not more than 10 feet away from me, which I thought was particularly bold for a bird. They always come to dinner dressed in their orange vests, black tops and white eyeliner. Classy.

It's been pointed out to me that robins are actually carnivores without teeth. They don't do feeders, but go after berries, insects and worms instead.

I do have one concern: we live in an area where birds of prey sometimes show up. I hear the occasional owl, and every once in a while, I'll see a sharp-shinned hawk patrol the sky. The songbirds and wild birds usually skedaddle when the hawk shows up.

I'm sure I've left out a bunch of birds: cardinals are abundant and once in a while a blue jay thinks he owns everything. Mourning doves, for some reason, think they can hang with this crowd.

All in all, it's pretty entertaining stuff, and I guess I have Mom to thank for my avian interest.

So, thanks Mom.

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