Springtime is for the birds

Spring has officially arrived to our Minnesota home:crabapple

Yeah, I know according to the calendar Spring has been here awhile, but it’s only really felt like Spring for the past week or so. And it’s not that a flowering crabapple is an official start, but it sounds good to me.

Speaking of trees, we had to remove a maple that was too close to the house. The tree man did the deed last week. Underneath the maple were a whole lotta hostas.

hostas

With the maple gone, so was the shade for the hostas. I transplanted them to our far more shady backyard.

Wanna know how many I transplanted? Sixty-five! Crazy, right?

But they sure look nice in my pretty little woodland corner, so it was worth it.backyard hostas As I worked, the neighborhood birds entertained me. (You knew birds had to come into the conversation eventually, right?)

The chickadees were being their typical adorable selves, ‘natch, and our downy woodpecker is ever the charmer.

 

By the way, all the bird photos you’ll be seeing here have been shamelessly pilfered from the site WhatBird.com.

Please don’t tell.

Have you ever been to that site? Their search feature is pretty cool. By giving them beak size, approximate body size, primary & secondary colors, or any other features you might notice, they will give you a pretty good guess as to what the bird is. Or at least a list of birds that you can narrow down yourself.

That’s how I found out who our newest visitor to the bird feeder is: a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Rose breasted grosbeak

And the bird that was with him was his mate, though I never would have guessed it.

Rose breasted grosbeak female

Another site I use is allaboutbirds.org. It’s a great spot for learning cool facts, such as while the Grosbeak won’t be winning any awards for their nest-building – “so flimsy you can sometimes see the eggs from underneath” – their song has been described as “a Robin who’s had opera training.”

I haven’t seen a lot of this couple. (Too busy with their voice lessons, I assume.) Mostly it’s Chickadees and my Downy Woodpecker. Oh — and the Goldfinches! Let’s not forget them.gold finchHe might be tiny, but I sure wouldn’t want to be alone in a room with him. Just look into those eyes! He means business.

Speaking of little birds – I witnessed a bunch of sparrows taking on a crow!

 

Here’s how it happened: Our neighbor has this platform feeder where he puts fruit, nuts, cracked corn, etc. So here I am plugging another hosta in the ground — think it was number 54 — when I hear a crow making an awful racket. Cawing away something awful. I look over to see what’s pissing him off.

There he is in a tree near the feeder, flapping his wings and bobbing his head in a threatening manner. I follow his gaze and there they were, a group of sparrows.

Sparrows!

Every time that crow tried to wing on over to the feeder, the sparrows dive bombed him! They swooped down all together, right at that old crow.

Whoosh!

How do you suppose sparrows work together like that? Do they draw up a battle plan ahead of time?

Gosh, I wonder if they have a squad leader?  “Sparrow One to Sparrow Two, come in from the right… Sparrow Four, wait for my call… steady… steady….move, move, move!”

Sparrows got moxie.

Oh, and here’s the best part: As I’m watching this battle raging, along comes a blue jay who just flew in and took whatever was on the feeder.

Which just goes to show: there’s no sense in fighting. The Blue Jay will win, every time.blue jay

I know a lot of people don’t like Blue Jays, but you gotta admit, with that sassy crest and stylish coloring? They cut a fine figure.

Some positive characteristics I’ve learned about jays: They mate for life, are very good parents, are highly intelligent and can make mincemeat of wasp nests in no time flat.

Oh, and here’s an interesting tidbit from the site:

The Blue Jay’s coloration is not derived by pigments, but is the result of light refraction due to the internal structure of the feathers; if a Blue Jay feather is crushed, the blue disappears as the structure is destroyed.

This is indeed true. I once found a pretty Blue Jay feather while walking Dog and brought it inside where she promptly decided to eat it. When she spit it out, it was no longer blue.

It was also covered in dog spit so I didn’t take a picture. Sorry.

And that wraps up our bird discussion for today. In review, please remember: even the most ordinary birds can be interesting if you just give them a chance.

Also, don’t mess with sparrows.

My little chickadee friends

What with one thing and another, mostly another, I find that the post I had planned for this week is not quite up to snuff.

Meaning I haven’t started writing it yet.

Instead, I’m going to show you one of the little chickadees who’s been visiting my bird feeder:

chickadee 2

Yeah, I know, it’s a lousy photo. But hey, considering it was with my phone and he was on the other side of my window — which could do with a cleaning — it’ll have to do. At the very least, you can see what dapper little birdies they are and will now understand why I’m so smitten with them.

I’m told they can get quite tame around humans. A woman from church told me that every morning as she fills her bird feeder, several come along and sit on a fence just a few feet away from her, waiting. Which I find rather charming, don’t you?

Also, here’s a YouTube video of my backyard bird sounds (gosh I hope this works):

Did it work?

If it did, you should be able to hear a two-note call over and over again (along with some geese and robins and I think at one point some ducks). That call is from the chickadees’ repertoire. Birders call it “fee-bee” and I’m told it roughly translates to “hey, sweetie.” Or as I like to think of it, “how you doin’?”

It’s a call you hear primarily in Springtime, as they’re looking for a mate to settle down and have kids together.

Admittedly, when I first heard these two notes over and over and over again, it was driving me nuts. But then I found out it was just a little chickadee looking for love and my heart went out to them. I hope they find it.

Before I go, I want to show you something I found in my quest for chickadee info. This came from a site run by a Dr. Laurie Bloomfield, who studies songbirds:

Chickadees use both songs and calls to communicate with conspecifics, and possibly heterospecifics. Songs are typically regarded as more complex signals than calls, however with only one song type (fee bee), several calls produced by chickadees may in fact be considered more complex. The vocalization made for which the birds are named is the chick-a-dee call. This call contains four notes types (in black-capped chickadees): termed A, B, C and D notes. Although the note types are almost always found in order from A through D, the number of notes in a call may vary and individual calls may not contain all note types.  For example, a call may be as followed: AAACDDD. The chick-a-dee call shows that chickadees may have an extremely complex communication system. For this reason, research continues in an attempt to identify the information that the chick-a-dee call is able to convey to conspecifics (and possibly heterospecifics). Another type of call produced by most chickadee species is the gargle call, which is used during antagonistic encounters with conspecifics.  Chickadees are well studied compared to many other species of birds; however there is still a lot that can be learned about their complex communication system. Each call variant by the birds needs to be analyzed further to elucidate the potential “message” attempting to be conveyed.

I don’t know about you, but I find the fact there are people in this world studying songbirds and analyzing their calls very reassuring. Whatever crap might be going on in the world, whatever garbage you hear in the news, somewhere else in the world there is a person looking up a tree with a mighty fine pair of binoculars, jotting down notes and probably wearing cargo pants.

I mean, just the idea that someone would write a paragraph about chickadees that includes the words “conspecifics” and “heterospecifics” fills me with joy. I must pursue this further.

Which is why I signed up for a birding class this summer in Storm Lake, Iowa. It’s part of a week-long “synod school” Husband and I are attending in late July. They have both fun and serious classes, and since he couldn’t do the ballroom dance class with me, I opted for the one called “Robins, Raptors and Ducks: The Basics of Bird Watching.”

According to the course description, two class periods will be spent at different “Northwest Iowa Watchable Wildlife areas.” Also, it says I’m to bring a good pair of binoculars, so if you have any suggestions for me, I’d appreciate it.

five birders with equipment
I will soon look like one of these people. (Gah, I need to get a hat!)