Birds And I
My Birdwatching Thoughts
As I watch the beautiful wild birds fly through the air so very free I wonder if that could be what draws me most to observe them. God has certainly given them a glorious gift, the gift of flying. Free as a bird, I’ve heard that line many times throughout my life, but I never really put much thought into its meaning. Now I wonder, what if I was free as a bird. I think freedom can be defined in many ways. Even birds are not completely free. They must know how to survive. They must build a nest and care for their young. Those that migrate must know when to travel and where to travel to.
South For The Winter
If I were a bird I certainly would migrate south. Why do some of them stay year around like the Blue Jays, Black-capped Chick-a-dees, Northern Cardinals and Tufted Titmouse? Surely they would be more comfortable where it doesn’t get so cold. Food would be much easier to come by without the ice and snow covering their dinner table. Being a northern hillbilly myself, I should be able to understand why they stay here. Could it be, because this is home?
Grandma Got Me Interested In Birdwatching
My first exposure to bird watching was during my childhood days. My grandmother introduced me to the special attention she paid to each individual species. Suet bags were placed out for the chick-a-dee, woodpeckers, and other insect eaters that stayed here for the winter. Sunflowers filled the feeder for Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals. Grandma would spread peanut butter on toast and sprinkle it with seed. The Chick-a-dee loved it as well as the Blue Jay who would try to fly away with the entire piece. Grandma also being an artist, painted many beautiful pictures of the wild birds.
One bird that doesn’t care for its own young is the Brown-headed Cowbird. The male cowbird has a brown head and black body. The female is plain gray. The name cowbird came to be because these birds would be seen in flocks around cattle, where they would pick ticks from their backs.
The cowbird will deposit eggs in the nest of another species. The foster parents will raise the cowbird young as their own. After the young can fend for themselves they will reunite with the cowbirds. Imagine being so sneaky, as to pawn your own children upon someone that doesn’t even know they have adopted them. And then, to take them, back as part of the family after they’ve grown. Even the most deceiving humans haven’t thought up that one, yet.
I believe one of my favorite feathered friends is the bright red, black masked, Northern Cardinal. They live here all year long. What a beautiful picture in winter to see these rubies against a white lacy curtain of snow. They take turns at the feeder with their mate whose dress is a faded reddish brown and her bill is a pinkish color. The song of the cardinal is uniquely heard across the valleys and the hillsides. The male will not be far from his mate. As mating season comes near the male will show such extreme aggression that he will see his own reflection in a window pain and peck at it madly fighting off his rival. I often wonder if some of these jealous fellows don’t knock themselves out trying to defend their territory against an imaginary intruder.
I have small birdhouses made for the tiny little wren. There are four different species of wrens common to Pennsylvania. The one I see more often is the House Wren. They need a tiny 1 inch hole about 6 inches from the floor in their house. I see them in my feeder, but they like insects better. I once had a wren make a nest in a paper sack of nails on a shelf in the tool shed. This was a Carolina Wren; it has a little different marking than the House Wren. Both are brown with white markings. Carolina Wrens don’t use the nest boxes or eat seed from the feeder.
The European Starling has become abundant here in Pennsylvania and has taken over nest sites otherwise used by woodpeckers and bluebirds. Bluebirds became rapidly run out of their native homes by these pesky intruders. The black speckled bodies, yellow bill and odd jerky walk of a starling is easily identified. I think they are one of the ugliest birds that live here. The starlings were brought here from Europe in 1890. Their first home in America was Central Park in New York City. They were first sighted in Pennsylvania in 1916. By 1952, the starlings had spread across North America making their present known as far away as Alaska. They eat tons of insects which would be a good thing if only they didn’t steal grain from storage units and foul everything left behind.
The European Starling will nest almost anywhere and not just in places sought by other birds. They can get into the side of a building making a filthy mess and their loud whistling chatters will be constant reminder of their present. They can find their way into small crevices of light poles or farm machinery to make their nest. They have become a pest to both the cities and farm lands. I think our ancestors should have put more thought into the idea of importing the European Starling.
Tree Swallows, which are a black bird with a greenish/blue cast to their back and white under parts are my most plentiful tenants, they nest here every year and are very good parents each taking turns taking their babies insects. Although I have one pair that nest in a birdhouse not far from a feeder I have never seen them enter it. If they eat seed they will retrieve it from the ground. They also love berries. Compared to other swallows the Tree Swallow carries a tune like a talented vocalist waking his neighbors early in the morning and singing them to sleep when night approaches.
And There's Many Many More
I've only talked about a few species here. I could go on and on about the beautiful wild birds. There are hundreds of different species just were I live. Hearing them sing and watching the things they do can be an interesting hobby. Kids and adults can enjoy nature at it's best. I can honestly say of all the many hobbies I have pursued this one has never bored me.
Field guides will help every birdwatcher identify their feathered friends and help inform them of food each species likes best.