Our birdman nearly flew the coop!

By Clay Christensen

Since the beginning of winter, I’ve been questioning whether I’ve pretty much finished with birds, bird watching, writing about birds and so forth.

I belong to a small group of friends who go out birding every Monday morning. But this year, I’ve decided to go on hiatus, skipping the Monday morning birding. For me, it involved getting up a couple hours earlier than usual to get ready, get the dog out, feed him, eat breakfast . . . it just got to be a hassle that I dreaded every week. Besides, it’s cold and dark, the weather is crummy and there are usually fewer birds.

Yes, I’ve gotten cranky in my old age, and I ask myself, “What’s the point?”

Mind you, I’ve not totally given up on birding; I’ve been focusing on birds in the neighborhood. Still, though, some things get me upset. For example, house sparrows! They’re not native birds. They were brought here from England and multiplied, mostly in urban settings.

I don’t like it when I see house sparrows on my feeders. I feed a 50-50 mix of sunflower hearts and safflower seeds, with the understanding that supposedly house sparrows don’t like safflower seed. Well, they apparently don’t, because they spit the seeds out and they pile up on my sidewalk. My dog and I track the shells into the house constantly. What a mess!

Speaking of sparrows, I got a mailer from my local hardware store: Help Feed Winter Birds. It advertises deals on bird seed mixes and suet. There’s a photo of three sparrows on the cover. Not house sparrows, but a species that lives around St. Louis! Eurasian tree sparrows! They have a brown cap, a black bib below the bill and a dark black spot on the cheek. Ironically, they apparently haven’t done well because of competition from house sparrows.

But then my crankiness subsides when I spot a robin on my bird bath on a really cold January afternoon. A robin! Sweet! So, I sit down at the table to watch it sip the water.

And suddenly there are dozens of robins gliding into the yard, flipping over the leaves in the garden beds, hopping around, looking quite serious. I estimate there were two dozen robins moving through my yard and those of the neighbors across the street.

There have been a number of bird-centric events and episodes just since the New Year that have tugged me back into loving all things avian.

I’ve had a Cooper’s hawk perch in a nearby tree, look around for a bit, and then zoom right at a sparrow at the bird bath. It didn’t catch the sparrow, but I’m sure it put a scare into it!

There have been a couple reports of a pair of barred owls at the Lauderdale Park. I think they’re nesting there. They can be heard calling to each other in the evening.

As a contributor to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I receive their quarterly magazine “Living Bird.” The last issue had some great articles in it: Hunting by Hearing, Birds in the Big City, and a great photo spread of bird pictures from their Macaulay Library archive.

The issue came with a large foldout about owls, illustrating things such as the shape of their eyeballs and feather design for quiet flight. I always thought that quiet flight was important for them as hunters, but it may be so the owl doesn’t get distracted by its own wing sounds while it’s listening for its prey. The prey itself is usually under a foot or more of snow, so they’re not going to hear an owl gliding in.

My buddy, Tim Canfield, stopped by with a chickadee nest box he built from some of the lumber he’s accumulated over the years. It’s a very interesting design, well built and rather large, about two feet tall. He’s wondering if some organization would be interested in using it as a door prize or a fund raiser.

Then, I’ve been seeing my male cardinal right at dusk. I call our cardinals Carl and Carla. So, this would be Crepuscular Carl, meaning he shows up at dawn and dusk. It’s thought that these times of low light may mean fewer predators nearby (like Cooper’s hawks) because visibility is reduced.

So, these and other events have rekindled my interest in birds, bird watching, reading and writing. I must confess I’m hooked. I always turn to see a bird in the sky when I’m walking my dog, trying to identify it, wondering where it’s headed, what it’s up to. I long for the return of spring, morning bird song, and rare migrants passing through my little slice of habitat. It’s coming! 

Clay Christensen lives and writes in Lauderdale, Minnesota.

Photo Credit: American robin. Photo by Linda Krueger.

Leave a Reply