Through My Window: A World of Birds

This post is mostly about birds. Now that I’ve admitted that, I can just hear the eyelids drooping, the yawns starting. Sigh.

Birds are fascinating! How come every kind of geek is now cool, but not bird geeks?

I learned bird watching growing up, with my family, and they have usually been the only people in my life who have shared this interest with me. Often, a friend would visit, and I’d say, “Ooh! A rose-breasted grosbeak!” and point toward the feeder. Instead of being delighted by the beauty and striking variety of colors on this bird (the fat yellow beak, the splash of raspberry red on the chest, the contrast of white on the belly and black on the back), they’d be like, “Yes, it’s a bird.”

I haven’t had one come to my window (nor has Melissa Etheridge) this year yet, but here’s a photo of one (taken by, and copyright of, Terry Sohl, used with her kind permission):

Male Rose Breasted Grosbeak sitting on a branch. As described above, with two white wing bars.

How can you not get excited seeing this bird at your feeder?

The one wonderful exception to my anti-birding friends is my friend and former roommate, Laurel, who took an ornithology class at Mt. Holydyke Holyoke, which got her into bird watching, too. That was fun, because we could get excited about birds together, in the same household, and call each other over if one of us spotted something neat outside.

Except, now there is a member of my household, for the first time since Laurel, who is just as fascinated by birds as I am: Barnum. I have a window feeder up, as well as a suet feeder in a lovely flowering ornamental tree outside my window, and a decorative bird bath, and it’s just a parade of birds all day.

Gray carved stone birdbath, the trunk resembling a tree trunk, with 3 little statues of birds and chipmunks around the basin's edge. It seems among old brown leaves and new green shoots coming out of the ground, overhung by a small ornamental tree with pale pink flowers that is just beginning to get green leaves and buds. one green vine is snaking up the bird bath's near side.

Isn't this lovely?

I put a stool next to the window so Barnum can watch the birds without having to jump on my bed or on the windowsills. He used to try to eat them — snapping at the birds in the window feeder — but he has learned that is a pointless endeavor, so he just watches, and yearns. Oh, how he yearns.

One of my favorite moments this spring, when the feeder was newly out, and Barnum and the birds had not yet completely gotten used to each other, was when there was a tufted titmouse at the window feeder. Barnum was looking at the titmouse, up and to the left, his snout pointing at it, with his head titled in that way he does, like when a dog is really trying to grok something.

And then the titmouse — I know, it sounds unbelievable, but it really happened — saw Barnum, and hopped over to the edge of the feeder and looked down at him, tilting its head to the side, with his beak pointing down. So, they were like mirror images of each other. They just looked at each other in fascination. One of my PCAs witnessed it with me, and it was hilarious and magical and adorable all in one.

I wish I could show you a picture of it, but alas, I did not have my camera at hand. Here is a reenactment that totally does not do justice to that marvelous moment:

Barnum standing on my bed, looking at a female purple finch in the window feeder on a large picture window.

"Mom! Look! Isn't this a female purple finch, distinguishable from the female house finch by the white eyebrow stripe. Can I eat her?"

Anyway, I’m all atwitter (pun totally intended), because I just saw and identified a bird I’ve never identified before — in my life! That’s saying something, as I’ve been bird watching as long as I can remember, and I’m fortymumble years old. It’s not a rare bird. I’ve just never seen it before and gotten a good look and then found it in my bird book. Probably because it’s a ground feeder, and I’m usually looking out my window into the trees.

It is . . .

The Eastern towhee!

An eight-inch long bird, black on head, chest, and long tail. Sides rufous (rusty red), belly white. Red eye. In this picture, perched on tree branch.

Male Eastern towhee, photo copyright Terry Sohl, used with permission.

How many different birds have I seen out my window this spring (not counting birds I saw last year or down the street or birds I’ve identified by call, such as the barred owls, which are unbelievably loud, or the drilling of the pileated woodpecker, also very loud!)? I’m glad you asked!

Here’s the list of birds I’ve seen in May 2011, all from my bedroom window (with the exception of a couple from the backyard):

  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Tufted titmouse
  • Chipping sparrow
  • Pine siskin
  • Eastern towhee
  • Junco
  • Goldfinch
  • House finch
  • Purple finch
  • Cardinal
  • Mourning dove
  • Blue jay
  • Cowbird
  • Raven
  • Crow
  • Robin
  • Phoebe
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Red-breasted nuthatch
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Hairy woodpecker
  • Sharp-shinned hawk
  • Magnolia warbler

The last one, the magnolia warbler, was also a really exciting find. I’ve never seen one before. It was hopping along on the ramp railing one day, and I had to try to memorize its distinctive features so I could look it up. I knew it was some sort of warbler, and not a yellow-rumped warbler, which I used to see quite often at my previous home, but almost all the warblers have yellow on them, so they can be hard to identify. Fortunately, I was able to memorize “two white wing-bars on black wings” and that turned out to be unusual among the warblers. Here’s what one looks like (again, this photo is courtesy of the kind and generous nature photographer, Terry Sohl, used with permission):

Five inch bird with long, pointy, narrow beak. Black mask across eyes, white eyebrow, bright yellow throat and belly, black back with white wing bars. Sitting on narrow tree branch.

Adorable and gorgeous little male magnolia warbler.

I’ve also seen red squirrels, gray squirrels, a rabbit, and a red fox, although I don’t think we can count these as birds, can we?

I’m hoping to do a regular “Birding Thursday” post where I post a photo of a bird from outside my window. It’s all part of my diabolical plan to convert some of you mammal snobs. Heh heh.

Here is the first of my Birding Thursday photos. A male yellow goldfinch in my window feeder:

Closeup side view of male goldfinch. He is bright y ellow, with black wings, except for two narrow white wing bars, a black cap on his head, and a whiite rump and tail feathers. He has an orange beak. He's bent down, grabbing a sunflower seed.

Please ignore the schmutz on the plexiglas.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (dreaming of wild turkeys), and Barnum (bird watcher more than bird chaser anymore)

16 Responses to “Through My Window: A World of Birds”

  1. 1 Laura June 2, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    Awesome 🙂 I love to see the birds in our yard! My folks have a host of different hummingbirds that get really po’d if they (my folks) are sitting on the porch when the birds want to eat! LOL In our yard i’ve seen alot of the usual, cardinals, bluejays, some kind of finch and a Robin has built her nest in the tree over our deck…can’t tell if there are babies or not. When i worked with NYC Parks we used to bird watch all the time. Even saw a Barred Owl and Scarlet tannenger one time 🙂

  2. 2 Karyn June 2, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    My mom would be so jealous of all the birds you see. Moms the real bird watcher. I used to enjoy it too, but with my blindness that is all gone. I’m glad you have such a great hobby that takes minimal energy to enjoy.

  3. 3 bettina June 2, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    hey sharon! i LOVE watching birds! my parent’s have the best set up in their yard. i could sit there for hours. we even identified a bird we had not seen before when i visited my mom last weekend. 🙂 my absolute favorite bird (silly, i know) is the nuthatch. love those guys! i get mostly gold finches and red finches at my house, as a finch feeder is the only one that i currently have that is squirrel proof. my kitties also love watching the birds.

    anyway, good post and cool shots! 🙂

  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler June 2, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Hey! All the birders are coming out of the woodwork! This is cool. Yes, I love nuthatches, too. They are so adorable. Especially the red-breasted ones. You probably already know that one thing that makes them different than woodpeckers is that nuthatches go all directions on the trunk of the tree, headfirst. That’s really cool, I think.

  5. 5 eileenanddogs June 2, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Hah, I know what you mean about people’s drooping eyelids. In March and April down here (mid-South USA) the brown thrashers, a relative of the mockingbird, go to the tops of the highest trees and sing their little guts out. They are normally shy birds that you glimpse infrequently in the underbrush. I have been at about 5 outdoor dog events lately where there was a brown thrasher singing–what a privilege to hear! I tell people about it (how could you NOT NOTICE that wonderful song?) and get polite nods or blank looks.

  6. 6 Kat June 2, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks for your post Sharon, it distracted me. I fell backwards out of the shower today and landed hitting my head against the bathroom door. Am in lots of pain but looking at and thinking about all the pretty birds made me feel a little better. 🙂 (I’m ok, nothing broken, no concussion… just lots of lumps and bruises and scrapes.)

  7. 7 patti brehler June 3, 2011 at 8:43 am

    I am a late-blooming “birder” since moving to northeastern MI. Previous owners of our house installed 39 birdhouses + a few feeders. So far this spring I’ve taken pictures (from our living room and kitchen windows) of: American Goldfinch, Baltimore Oriole, Black Capped Chickadee, Bluejays, Brown-headed Cowbird, Cardinal, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird (one of which has taken up residence in one of the houses!), Dark-eyed Junco, House Wren, hummingbirds, Mourning Dove, Northern Flicker, Purple Finch, Red Winged Blackbird, Robin, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (one of my favs), White Breasted Nuthatch, Hairy, Pileated, and Red-Bellied Woodpecker! We are also near a nesting pair of Bald Eagles, who cruise the area almost every morning. Keep those bird pictures coming!

  8. 8 patti brehler June 3, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Oops, forgot the Tufted-Titmouse and I’m sure a few others!

  9. 9 bettina June 3, 2011 at 8:48 am

    YES! I love that they are always ‘head down’ (skydiving term). I only see the blue / gray one here.

  10. 10 Laura June 6, 2011 at 11:15 am

    When I worked at Ellis Island, I actually had a Nuthatch land and take a rest on my FINGER!! Totally cool 🙂

  11. 11 Sharon Wachsler June 6, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Laura, Wow, that’s cool. I’ve never heard of a nuthatch doing that. I’ve heard sometimes you can get chickadees to land on your finger, but I’ve never been successful. I guess those birds must be quite used to people from all the tourists feeding them?

  12. 12 Sharon Wachsler June 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    That is a really impressive list for a beginning birder! Wow. I’m jealous. Though hopefully if I get out more this summer, I will see more. There is usually a great blue heron that summers in a swamp near my home.
    It’s funny, because when I read through your list, I thought, “Surely she has titmice?” And then you added the P.S.

  13. 13 Sharon Wachsler June 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Yes, mostly head down, but sometimes will also go toward the sides, etc. I think they should study how they do that without falling off the tree!
    When I said ‘red” I meant red-breasted. We have nuthatches with slate-colored backs, too. It’s just that the “red breasted” has a rusty belly.

  14. 14 patti brehler June 6, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Thanks Sharon! I take no credit for the impressive birds–they just keep coming to our birdfeeders! My husband laughs whenever I see a “new” one and jump up to get my camera and bird-book. I hope you can get out more this summer! Take care! (Yesterday I saw a Common Grackle!)

  15. 15 Sharon Wachsler June 11, 2011 at 1:23 am

    Aren’t scarlet tanagers amazing? I saw one once, and I remember it vividly. I looked out on my back porch, and there was one high up in a birch tree. It looked like a FLAME in the tree, it was so bright. It was breathtaking. I did manage to get my binoculars and get a closer look before it flew away.
    The only other bird I ever saw that was that exciting was an indigo bunting, also just once.
    We had a barred owl here last year that would come and sit on the bird feeder pole in the backyard. Needless to say, the other birds did not come around then! S/he was a regular, and we named her Hedwig. (We just decided if we were going to name the bird Hedwig, we’d go with her being female.)
    She was much more peaceful to watch than to listen to. I used to get woken up by them when I lived in Ashfield and slept with my windows open. They still startle Barnum, when they make those chimpanzee-like calls. I can do a good impression of them by now!
    I can’t have a hummingbird feeder here — it attracts the local black bear. We take the seed feeders in before evening and put them out in the morning, but last year, it was the nectar the bear was after, and he came once during the daytime too — I saw him go after that feeder, right outside my window.

  16. 16 Sharon Wachsler June 11, 2011 at 1:26 am

    LOL. Eileen, this made me laugh. Why does this not surprise me? Hmm. Sometimes think maybe us dog fanatics are a bit, um, fanatical . . . about dogs? To the exclusion of other of life’s pleasures? Ha ha ha ha!

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