Getting to Know My Feathered Visitors
I can name many of the birds that show up at my feeders, but not all of them. Chickadees, goldfinches, red-breasted nuthatches, blue jays, cardinals, and house finches are easy.
But some sparrows, other finches, woodpeckers, and a variety of different black-colored birds throw me for a loop because they look so much alike that I’m reminded about how I tried to distinguish between the identical Martin twins who attended Pleasant View Elementary with me.
Sometimes I look up a bird online and manage to identify it after learning what distinguishes it from its near twin. But the next time the bird shows up, I’ve already forgotten about the distinction, much like my attempts to keep the Martin twins straight.
A few days ago, I read a poem by M. Soledad Caballero, “Someday I Will Visit Hawk Mountain,” which captures both my lofty dream to be an informed birder and my failure to do so.
[To read or listen to Caballero’s poem, click here: On Being.]
Recognizing Their Voices
Chickadees are handsome birds dressed in an eye-catching array of feathers, ready for an evening at a gala while singing lyrical tunes worthy of their attire.
Red-breasted nuthatches are elegant birds, striking art deco poses along branches and tree trunks. Then they open their beaks and belt out a whiny, nasal yenk, yenk, yenk. And I imagine them drunk on rum and singing a sea shanty off-key. But last week, when I heard a nuthatch yenk, yenk, yenk in my yard, I smiled, listening joyfully because I knew two bird calls!
[To see pictures of a chickadee and red-breasted nuthatch and hear their songs, click here: Audubon.]
Squirrels show up at the feeders. I don’t invite them, but neither do I circle the feeders with a wall and barbed wire. I like to think of our agreement as “everybody has a fighting chance.” I buy sturdy feeders and hang them where the squirrels must invest time and ingenuity to get a meal. If a squirrel figures out how to climb, jump, or hang upside down to get seed, he’s earned a snack. There are still plenty of seeds left for the birds.
Last week I bought a new feeder to hang in the pine tree outside the window in my writing office. A few hours later, a squirrel arrived. He stretched his empty paw toward the feeder but couldn’t reach it. He lost his balance and fell off the branch, landing on the ground. Over the next couple of days, he tried different techniques, hoping to hang on the feeder, but each time he had to scramble back to the tree to avoid falling. However, failure rolled off his back like a bad dream disappearing at dawn. The squirrel, maybe after being bitten by a radioactive bat or using his bat intelligence or perhaps because he’s from a cave on Krypton, became Bat Squirrel, able to hang by his toes, poke his mouth into the mesh, and munch seeds.
During one of Bat’s visits to the feeder, a chickadee perched on a branch above him and waited patiently for him to finish eating. But after a few seconds, the chickadee flew off because that’s a chickadee’s idea of patience.