Bird Roll Call: February 14, 2018

  • Accipiter sp.3
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,2
  • Black-capped chickadee (heard)2
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose1,2
  • Cooper’s hawk2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • European starling1,2,3
  • Gadwall2
  • Great blue heron2
  • Gull sp. (overhead)1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,2
  • Northern cardinal (heard at LCP)1,2
  • Northern flicker (male and female, both at home and at LCP)1,2
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-tailed hawk1
  • White-throated sparrow1,2
  • Wood duck2

It was overcast and 36 degrees in the morning. One dozen American goldfinches were flitting all over the sweetgum trees and nyjer feeders. Four pine siskins came to one of the nyjer feeders just before 8 a.m. No eastern bluebirds today.

Just before sundown, my partner and I took our dog to Leawood City Park, where we saw several birds, including the red-headed woodpecker who flew in circles high above us while sounding an alarm call. We also saw a male northern flicker clinging to a nesting cavity in a tree. He was calling loudly and engaging in a mating dance. A female sat inside the cavity watching the display. (It’s not like she had a choice. He pretty much had her pinned in.)

Locations — in my backyard, at Leawood City Park, and while driving to and from these locations.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Leawood City Park
3. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: February 11, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Carolina wren (heard)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Eastern bluebird
  • European starling
  • Great horned owl (heard)
  • Gull sp. (overhead)
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • White-throated sparrow

It was 13 degrees out and snowy this morning. Snowflakes collected in the silver maple’s shaggy bark. American goldfinches were everywhere. The pair of bluebirds came early, just before 7 a.m. and again at about 8:30 a.m. I saw the squirrel with one eye, whom I haven’t seen for several weeks. The house finch with missing wing feathers didn’t make an appearance today. This has me worried. I don’t think he made it through the cold snap. With so many missing feathers, the odds were against him.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: February 9, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin (including a leucistic male**)
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • Gull sp. (overhead)
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • White-throated sparrow

I saw a leucistic male American robin at the birdbath while I was outside with my dog. His head was fully pigmented, but his breast, belly and back were covered in white patches. I heard an American goldfinch’s call for the second time in as many days. I looked up at the sweetgum tree and saw a male goldfinch sitting on a branch, talking away. Four white-throated sparrows were present today, which is more than I’ve seen in the yard for some time.

Location — in my backyard. A double asterisk indicates first sighting in my yard.

Bird Roll Call: January 22, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Carolina wren (heard)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Pine siskin
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • White-throated sparrow

Several pine siskins visited the yard today. This is only the second time I’ve seen them on our property. They were fraternizing with the American goldfinches, who blew into the yard like confetti all day.

I saw a male house finch with several missing wing feathers — seventeen of them by my count — exposing the downy feathers underneath. I’ve read that this means the bird had a close call, most likely with a hawk. He seemed happy and was content to feed at my black oil sunflower seed feeder. I don’t know how birds live each day so close to death.

The female northern flicker visited the yard again. She seemed to be looking for the male flicker, but he was nowhere to be found. Eventually, she flew away, but not before having a bite of plain suet.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: January 15, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Carolina wren
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Cooper’s hawk (flying behind house)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk (flying behind house)
  • White-throated sparrow

At least two dozen American goldfinches visited mid-morning.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: January 10, 2018

  • American crow2
  • American goldfinch1,2
  • American robin1,2
  • Black-capped chickadee1,2
  • Brown creeper2
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose (overhead)1,2
  • Carolina wren1,2
  • Cooper’s hawk2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird (flying away)2
  • European starling1,2
  • Gadwall2
  • Great blue heron2
  • Hooded merganser2
  • House finch1,2
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,2
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Northern flicker1,2
  • Northern mockingbird2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Ring-billed gull (overhead)2
  • Song sparrow2
  • White-throated sparrow1,2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2
  • White-breasted nuthatch1
  • Wood duck2

I came downstairs this morning to the alarm calls of three blue jays. Whatever they saw or heard scared them enough that they took cover rather than continuing to signal the threat’s whereabouts. The birds sat motionless for a long time, two in my neighbor’s crabapple tree and one in an adjacent shrub. I’ve never seen anything like it. I can only imagine what they witnessed or directly experienced. My guess is one of their own was attacked or barely escaped an attack — by a hawk, of course. The northern cardinals and even the house sparrows ventured out from their hiding spots before the blue jays finally emerged.

Things quickly took a turn for the better when waves of American goldfinches arrived over the course of the next hour. They came in sets of twelve, by my count, though it’s not easy to count goldfinches, so that’s more of a rough estimate than a formal assessment. The yard was jovial. I had my own Cirque du Soleil troop in the sweetgums, aerialists clinging to the trees’ seeds and darting back and forth to the birdbath and nyjer feeders. The male goldfinches wore circles of light-orange rouge on their cheeks and still had hints of bright yellow on their faces. The females were more understated in their olive overcoats with black detailing.

All the birds were swept up in the merriment. The downy woodpeckers flitted from tree to tree. The northern flicker shared a branch with a red-bellied woodpecker for a few moments before growing fussy. The house finches made their usual ruckus as they flew from the far feeder at the back of the property to the finch feeders closer to my house. The Carolina wren came out and investigated the cavity in the tree that the squirrels moved into this week. I heard a “chu, chu, chu” as a squirrel protested the intrusion. Unfazed, the wren flew to the ground and started in on a three-note song. The notes that comprised this song were an ascending E, F-sharp, and G. The rhythm was triplets, which were repeated anywhere from one to four times before the wren paused and then went at it again. After a bit, he flew to the front yard. Moments later, the song started up on that side of the property. I read that wrens sing relentlessly to defend their territories. This land is his, not anyone else’s — not even mine. His song makes it so.

I saw the male northern flicker foraging on the ground for the first time today. That’s how I always saw them feeding when we lived in the Pacific Northwest, but here the flicker has mostly stuck to the trees and a gnarly wooden utility pole at the back of the property. (That pole is nearly worn all the way through from decades of woodpecker activity.) When a constellation of starlings flew over, the flicker tilted his head so one eye faced the sky. Realizing the birds didn’t pose a threat, he went back to foraging as the red-bellied woodpecker trilled from the pole.

During the mid-morning lull, a white-throated sparrow waded into the birdbath. He was timid at first and quickly returned to the side of the bowl. A few moments later, he went in with gusto and sent water in all directions. Bird and baths. What a combination.

The wind took on a strange quality later in the morning, lulling the plants it touched into a trance-like state. The branches of the hydrangeas began to move in stiff wingbeats, their dried blooms bobbing like evangelists at a revival meeting. The highest branches on the sweetgums twisted in the wind, as if they had entered a hula hoop contest and were hell-bent on winning.

My trip to Leawood City Park in the afternoon brought me closer to peace than I’ve been in a long time.

Locations — in my backyard and at Leawood City Park.


1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at Leawood City Park

Bird Roll Call: January 9, 2018

  • American crow
  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Carolina wren
  • Cooper’s hawk
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mallard (overhead)
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • White-throated sparrow

It was a fine day in the yard. The American goldfinches returned, which was a relief. I’ve read that they can disappear without notice. My sweetgum trees and nyjer feeders may not be enough to keep them interested in the long run.

It was warmer today, so I sat outside until the birds no longer took notice of me. I watched a Carolina wren sing a two-note song from the top of my fence. He was singing a B-flat and G-flat combination, which he repeated five times in a row. Later in the afternoon, fueled by a healthy serving of suet at my suet feeder, he sang a series of songs and calls from beneath my kitchen window. It’s the first time I’ve heard him do a more elaborate performance. The songs were similar to the ones I heard a Carolina wren belting out two days ago at Leawood City Park. He put his individual spin on the tunes. Birdsong is nothing if not improvisational.

The red-bellied woodpecker snatched a glob of peanut butter bark from the lower part of one of my sweetgums and smashed it into the jagged remains of a dead limb high up on the tree. The squirrels will most likely steal that stored delicacy before the red-bellied woodpecker comes back for it. That’s OK. There will be more for everyone tomorrow.

The northern flicker returned today, despite having been ousted from his home yesterday.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: January 8, 2018

  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • White-throated sparrow

Several hawk alerts throughout the day kept the birds away from the yard for long periods of time. American goldfinches were notably absent, and several species didn’t make an appearance until the afternoon. One of the hawks was a red-tailed hawk, who landed in my neighbor’s tree like a boulder.

In the evening, a northern flicker attempted to retire in a cavity in my silver maple, only to find that two squirrels had taken the space over and outfitted it with several mouthfuls of dead leaves. The flicker approached the cavity twice within a fifteen-minute period before flying away. The squirrels who now reside in the cavity mated three days ago — I wasn’t trying to see it, but I did — so I doubt they have any interest in responding to the flicker’s eviction notices. They are getting everything in order for their first litter of the year. We’ll see where the flicker lands and if he comes back tomorrow.

Location — in my backyard.

Twitter: Nobler Animals

The bird you can hear is the one who has the sweetest song.

Earlier, I saw a heron flying and thought it was a ship slicing the air.

American goldfinch, drop of sun.

The birds give voice to the trees.

Two ravens ink the air.

How small the bird. How vast the sky.

After the rain, a house finch bathes in a pothole.

The sky lives through the birds.

Wet swallow, who destroyed your nest on this stormy day?

Swallows, turn my home into your nest. I am only here with your permission.

The barn swallow’s body is a sunset within the sunset.

Neighbor, how can you walk with your head down on this beautiful night?

One swallow, it seems, is having more fun in the air than all the rest.

Sweet robin, I didn’t see you there. But I heard your song.

I’ve had nobler animals in my life than humans.

Starling, that’s a window, not a way through.

When you clear the land, you must confront the sky.

Landscapers, what have you come to destroy?