Ornithological shift change

Sparrow attempts to chase away a starling(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 2/14/2014)

A few days ago, the first Eastern Bluebird of the season wandered into the yard. I watched as what I am pretty sure was a Tufted Titmouse sat on a branch and dug a peanut from its shell. I’ve been told robins have been seen in Littlestown.  It’s seasonal shift change in the bird kingdom.

Wild critters are fun to watch. Their actions, and sometimes their voices, reveal meanings and characteristics to those patient enough to watch quietly and listen. I’ve never been one for what Mom and Dad used to call “jackrabbit starts;” moving slowly, if at all, it a handy trait for critter-watching.

A flash of bright red grabs the corner of my eye. Two pair of Northern Cardinals wintered over, offering crimson ornaments to the snowy forest. But though the guys have the bright flash, when one of the ladies sits in the tree outside my studio – which the boys never do – there is a certain regal appearance about her.

The guys are really difficult to get with the camera; they tend to stay in the branches at the edge of the woods, making rapid forays to the feeder and back. By the time you’ve seen and focused on them, they’ve been and gone.

The common House Sparrows never left, nor did a couple pair of doves. Grackles disappeared for about a week, then reappeared, and a couple Blue Jays never went far from the feeders. A small group of guys and gals I’ve not yet identified – short ivory bill, blue-black back and chest, white underbelly – have completed the winter entourage.

What has been a bit surprising is the way all those communities seem to get along with each other. Gray Squirrels and various varieties of birds all dining at the same restaurant.

But it’s the hummingbirds for which I wait. They thrum through my imagination in winter, and calm my summer daydreams. They are the only of the feathered aviators that talk with the vibrations of their wings.

I sat watching the feeder one day, enjoying a book and waiting for the hummers to stop by the bright red reservoir hanging in front of my rocker. I’d noticed women’s equality hadn’t reached the Ruby Throated community. He insisted he be allowed to eat first, last, and in between.

Every time one of the girls hovered at the feeder, The Boss would come screaming down from a nearby branch and chase her away.

The ladies were pretty friendly – at least not afraid – toward humans. Often they’d come flying so close I could feel their wind on my throat as they carved a path beneath my beard. One of them landed on the armrest, only a couple inches from my right elbow. I sat as still as I could, almost not breathing. Maybe she’d land on me. One could hope. I’ve read of a guy who got hummingbirds to sip sugar water from his tongue.

The other gal hummer showed up, hovered near the feeder bottle, and thrummed her wings, calling, it turned out, to the Woods King sitting in yon evergreen. He launched himself in a dive at where she hung, patiently, waiting for just the right second … and, just as he was about to crash into her, she flitted away into the nearby trees, the dud in hot pursuit.

Whereupon the seemingly coy young lady at my elbow popped off the chair and – without making a sound – eased over to the feeder for a long quaff.

The play was proof that putting on a show is nice, but if you’re going to win the game, you need to keep an eye on all the players.

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One Response to Ornithological shift change

  1. Sharon says:

    Great descriptions, John. Spring is coming. Yay!
    I don’t watch like you do, but I’ve been hearing some songs I haven’t heard for a few months.

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