Bird Roll Call: January 11, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Carolina wren
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Ring-billed gull
  • White-throated sparrow

I woke to church bells. It was cold and growing colder. Over the course of the day, water turned into ice. Frozen droplets hung from the silver maple’s scaled bark and clung to every branch. They looked like one thousand crystal balls portending one thousand potential futures. Pellets of ice fell from the sky like flour being shaken through a sieve.

The ice amplified noise from adjacent streets. Roads cracked and howled as traffic passed. Eventually, the wind kicked up and did its own share of howling.

Early in the day, the dark-eyed juncos’ tails were splayed, gray and white fans half folded, half spread. Perhaps their feathers froze in these positions overnight and needed time to thaw.

A wet cardinal flew near my cracked window. His wings sounded like the pages of a flipbook being thumbed.

The birds seemed panicked, frenzied. Yesterday’s animato had given way to today’s agitato. There were skirmishes at the window feeder all day. The northern flicker devoured the suet he rarely touches, the red patch on the back of his head water-tousled. His pecking on the suet cake sounded like someone hammering numbers into a license plate. A few feet away, the red-bellied woodpecker’s drumming on the silver maple sounded like a tin sign being tapped with a penny nail.

Gulls flew over, paper cutouts on a paper-white sky. A male northern cardinal used a teal Adirondack chair for cover.

European starlings acted lost, dejected. They wanted to eat the suet, but the northern flicker wouldn’t let them. He would bite their legs and pin them to the ground when they approached. They wandered through a plate of seed I’d left on the patio, uninterested, before clomping around in the vinca below the suet feeder, their heads pulled tight against their bodies. One let out a half-hearted “tee-ka-tuh-dee, tuh-dee-doh” before taking off for the back fence. Was it a complaint? A protest? The bird equivalent of cursing?

The red-bellied woodpecker flew off in the erratic path of a pilot who doesn’t trust his own instruments. With a flash of his gold-leaf undersides, the northern flicker flew up and over the patio roof. A single American goldfinch remained perched on the patio’ nyjer feeder.

With the northern flicker gone, a starling went for the suet. Then another and another. I let them.

Location — in my backyard.