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Column: A season for everything, especially bird paparazzi


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If I were a more methodical observer, I could produce for you a long, well-documented and specifically annotated list of the birds we have been entertaining here at home during the last couple of months.

But I’m not, so let’s just say this winter birds of all colors, sizes and feathers have been flocking together in great numbers to the feeders in our yard. Some of them show up on such a regular basis, I’m starting to consider them house pets. I admit I look forward to their daily visits.

It is likely that most of the birds I see as I look out my window from the kitchen table where I work are regulars. I certainly would hate to be accused of stereotyping, but most of these daily visitors are so similar as to be indistinguishable from one another, at least to me.

Now I’m sure to another titmouse, each one of its buddies who shows up at the tray feeder is recognizable as an individual, but from where I am sitting, all titmice are pretty much alike.

Although I don’t run to my National Audubon Field Guide on a regular basis, I have learned to recognize a few species, if not individual birds. Chickadees and juncos, wrens and sparrows are frequent flyers to our tray feeder.

Several varieties of finches enjoy the feeder named specifically for them, and what could be more beautiful against the white snow than the red cardinals that bless us with their presence.

A few individual birds do stand out from the crowd at the feeders. This one may have a distinctive color or markings that cause me to pay closer attention; that one may be very aggressive or display other behaviors that are notable.

Like Hollywood stars, they are the celebrities of bird society in our little part of the world, and when they show up, I am likely to grab my camera and become a bird paparazzo.

During the winter months, we have the pleasure of watching several species of woodpeckers. Both the smallish downy and hairy woodpeckers are regulars at the tray. A red-bellied woodpecker visits on occasion, and once or twice I have been excited to see a redheaded woodpecker (the one with the round head that is completely red) clinging to the nearby tree waiting to work the suet feeder hanging from the post at the end of our stone walkway. One thing I like about woodpeckers is they are fairly easy to identify.

Two pileated woodpeckers are daily visitors I have come to expect. At about 19 inches, they are the biggest of the woodpeckers in our area. (By comparison, sparrows and finches are about 5 inches long.)

Pileated woodpeckers usually are shy and avoid humans, but hunger builds courage and, during the winter months, they will risk getting close to the house. I love to watch them approach, gracefully swooping down from one tree and then arcing back up to cling to another closer tree, cautiously coming nearer to the hanging suet.

I call the bigger one “Big Red” and the slightly smaller one “Lil’ Red.” As I say, they are shy and fly off at the slightest movement, but one day Big Red was clinging to a dying tree in our front yard excavating one of the species’ distinctive squarish holes.

I went out to get the mail expecting him to fly off, but it was like I wasn’t there. I got closer and closer, but he was obsessed with whatever was inside, possibly carpenter ants. I got my camera and managed to get some close-ups.

When spring comes, I suppose Big Red and Lil’ Red will go back to the plentiful food supply in the thick woods and I won’t see much of them until next winter. I’ll miss them, but it is OK. I understand that to everything there is a season, especially for us bird paparazzi.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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