Ten on Tuesday: Ten Favorite Birds.
- The loon. There has been a nesting pair on this lake as long
as we have been here, since 1991, and every spring we — and everyone else on the lake — watches and waits with anticipation for them to return. Some years they raise their chick(s) to maturity, some years the nest gets flooded out, some years the chick(s) perish in a storm, some years the chicks just disappear, probably dinner for some turtle or fish. They will not always come here; we are at the southern edge of their breeding range, civilization is encroaching, and global warming will eventually lower the level of the lake and shrink it too much for them. (Loons need a l-o-n-g runway to take off.) I hope that doesn't happen for a long, long time. That first haunting call heard every spring is magical.
- The chickadee. I love their cheerful song (Chick-a-dee-dee–DEE!) and their lovely two-note whistle. When I was very young my mother would whistle up the stairs to wake my father for breakfast; she did that in hopes of not waking me — unsuccessfully, as it turned out. Her whistle was the chickadee's.
- The cardinal. Who can resist that gorgeous red plumage on the male? I learned their whistle/call when we were camping in the Florida Keys and one perched above the microbus, whistling its little heart out and waking me every morning. Years later I would hear that same whistle on frosty but sunny February and March mornings in Minneapolis while I waited for the bus.
- Woodpeckers — red-headed (1, below), red-bellied (2), downy (3) and hairy (4) (the downy and hairy look so much alike I can only tell them apart by size — downies are the size of a robin and hairies the size of blue jay), and we have even seen a pileated (5) a couple times here. So pretty, so busy. I love them even though they sometimes mistake our cedar siding for a very wide, very flat tree.
- Goldfinches. I have a thistle feeder hanging on our deck railing, and have seen up to eleven of the bright little birds gathered around it to gorge themselves on seeds. Some spend the winter here, and their plumage is dull olive during that time. Come spring, they brighten to the beautiful yellow.
- Hummingbirds. East of the Rockies there is only the ruby-throated hummer, but that just makes us appreciate them more. There is a constant stream of hummers to and from our feeder hanging from the eave during the summer. They are aggressive little buggers, though: you have not known intimidation until a hummingbird has hovered ten inches in front of your face and you have faced that needle-sharp beak, wishing you were wearing glasses.
- The bluebird. They do not, as a rule, like the habitat here at this house — too many trees, not enough open grass. But one of the first summers we were here, a bluebird pair made their nest in the martin house in the middle of the front yard. This was also against their usual nesting behavior — the martin house was 15 feet in the air, they prefer to nest 6 to 8 feet above ground. But they did it, and when we sat quietly on the deck one afternoon we could hear the babies peeping and watch the parents come and go, bringing bugs to feed their babies. Another year they nested in a bluebird house nailed to a tree where I could see it from my kitchen window. But one night a predator — raccoon, weasel, skunk, cat — raided the nest, and we have never had bluebirds since, although I do see them flying across meadows from time to time when I drive into town.
- Bald eagle. Have you seen the eagle cam*? The baby eagles are nearing fledgling stage, I think, but it has been fun to watch them grow. We have had eagles here, too, since early March. There was a significant fish kill in the lake, so there are a lot of dead fish on the shore. (Lucy has enjoyed rolling in them every time we let her go for a runaround. Ewww.) The eagles have been gorging themselves for two months. (Once again, ewww.) Once I was floating on an air mattress in the lake shortly after sundown, and a bald eagle flew low over me. It was so close that the way I first realized its presence was by the sound of its wings.
- Barred owl. The special thing about the barred owl is that they live in the woods around here. Their call is not the Whooo! of storybooks, but rather more like the sound of a dog barking far away. Very rarely we might see one swoop across the road when we are driving home through the woods. At times like that I am always glad I am not a small scurrying mammal.
- The flicker. This one became a favorite back in my
coloring book days — I loved the bright red stripe on the back of its head. They are in the woodpecker family, although I have mostly seen them pecking for ants in a humungous ant hill in a little rock garden on a hillside here. That ant hill was quite annoying every spring when I would plant flowers in the garde; it was destroyed when we put in the new septic system. Poor flickers had to find another place to feed.
* I caught both the parents on the nest yesterday.