Some Words About Birds
I feed the birds. Outside birds, that is. I’ve only ever owned one inside bird, a Cockatiel. I didn’t even own him long enough to name him. It was twenty-five years ago when I was young and stupid. I brought him home and hung his cage in what I thought was a cat-proof corner. I left the room for a minute only to rush back in when I heard an ear-piercing kerfuffle occurring in the living room. My cat, Harvey was hanging from the bottom of the bird cage and Mr. Cockatiel was screaming for his life. I brought him back to the pet shop having learned a valuable lesson: have indoor cats and outdoor birds.
Growing up back in the Upper Michigan woods, we always fed the birds. Well, my brother, Spencer, always fed the birds. Spence had a real affinity with birds and all wild animals. I can still see the chickadees and chipmunks eating out of his hand, or waiting on his shoulder while he refilled the feeders. I didn’t appreciate the magic of his gift then, he was just my dorky brother, after all. But I absorbed a lot by osmosis from his breadth of knowledge. The air traffic was constant around the house with chickadees and nuthatches and grosbeaks and woodpeckers and in the summer, hummingbirds. And Spence could identify birds better than anyone I’ve ever known. I still have trouble identifying the species but I recently figured out why: birds are feathered chameleons. If you try to identify a bird by one single picture in a bird book, you might never figure it out. If they’re puffed up from the cold, they can look completely different then when they’re sleek and slicked down ready for take-off. A female purple finch is brown and so are the juveniles, while adult males have a rose-colored breast. And forget about it if they’re wet from a dip in the birdbath or the sprinkler.
I am most successful at identifying birds by their behaviors. Nuthatches usually feed upside down. Juncos mostly feed on the ground. Mourning doves almost never travel alone but in pairs or groups. Woodpeckers are usually by themselves, unless they’re feeding their young. And bushtits arrive one after the other chattering amongst themselves, usually in a flock of a dozen or more.
I love them all, even the hawks that feed on the birds that I feed. I believe in nature and the food chain is nature’s way of keeping its own delicate balance.
But I am most enamored with the tiny bushtits -- such an awkward name for such a darling bird. Just three inches in length, in North America only the hummingbird is smaller. They fly in one after the other, chittering away constantly as if telling their feathered compatriots, “Hey! Come on. She put out fresh suet. It’s over here.”
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