Bird Roll Call: March 21, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee (heard)
  • Blue jay
  • Common grackle
  • Cooper’s hawk (juvenile)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker (heard)
  • Pine siskin
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Turkey vulture (overhead)
  • White-throated sparrow

A turkey vulture flew over the house again today. In the afternoon, I was inside the house when I heard a loud window strike. I ran to the window and looked out, expecting to see a dead bird on the ground. Instead, I saw the juvenile Cooper’s hawk on top of a mourning dove, its wings spread wide. My guess is that the hawk was pursuing the mourning dove and the latter flew into the window (and died on impact) in a panicked attempt at escape.

Starlings pecked their way through one of our eaves today and started building a nest in the attic. I could hear the commotion from my office window.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: March 12, 2018

  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Barred owl (two heard singing duet)1
  • Black-capped chickadee (heard)1
  • Blue jay1
  • Common grackle1
  • Cooper’s hawk (adult and juvenile)2
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • European starling1
  • Gull sp. (overhead)1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker (heard)1
  • Northern mockingbird2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1
  • Red-winged blackbird (about three hundred)2
  • Red-tailed hawk2
  • White-throated sparrow1

I saw the adult Cooper’s hawk in the morning shortly after I woke up. A juvenile Cooper’s hawk flew through the yard and landed on the neighbor’s utility line in the evening.

My partner and I went out at dusk and saw several hundred (at least three hundred by my estimation) red-winged blackbirds in the Prairiefire Wetlands. They were briefly pursued by two red-tailed hawks who had a tussle with one another over hunting rights before they decided to turn in for the night. A single northern mockingbird kept the blackbirds company.

Just after 10 p.m., I heard two barred owls cawing and hooting at one another in a courtship duet similar to the audio file titled “Duet (Northern)” at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website. I believe the two live in a nest in my neighbor’s tree one house back and one house over.

Locations — in my backyard and at the Prairiefire Wetlands.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen near the Prairiefire Wetlands

Bird Roll Call: February 8, 2018

  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Black-capped chickadee1
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose (overhead)1
  • Carolina wren (heard)1
  • Cooper’s hawk1
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • Eastern bluebird1
  • European starling1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (male and female**)1
  • Red-tailed hawk1,2
  • Rock pigeon2
  • White-throated sparrow1

Thanks to my new camera, I finally got good photos of the accipiter who frequents my yard. Now that I can see details that I couldn’t make out before, I believe this is actually a Cooper’s hawk, not a sharp-shinned hawk.

The male red-bellied woodpecker had a female with him today. That’s the first time I’ve seen a female in the yard. Very exciting.

I saw the male and female bluebirds at the birdbath just before eight this morning. I saw the male again about an hour later.

Locations — in my backyard and while driving through town. A double asterisk indicates first sighting in my yard.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: February 5, 2018

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

I woke to rabbit tracks crisscrossing the yard, along with areas where the snow had been nosed away so the rabbit could graze on the grass beneath it.

The male and female bluebirds returned. Our birdbath must be one of the only sources of water in the area. I saw them three times throughout the day. Each time, I clapped with joy.

At least one dozen mourning doves took off suddenly and flew over the house. The Cooper’s hawk was perched high in my neighbor’s silver maple. When a Cooper’s hawk arrives, the term birdwatching becomes literal: You are suddenly watching just one bird, the one who has scared off all the others.

After about an hour, the littles started making their way back. They didn’t realize the hawk was still standing sentinel in the tree. Dark-eyed juncos, house finches, northern cardinals, and white-throated sparrows hopped along the fence railing and kicked at the ground. Both chickadees visited the feeders. I was happy to see that they made it through the frigid night. (I saw the Carolina wren later as well, another species that’s especially fragile in extremely cold weather.) One of the chickadees saw the hawk and mounted an attack. It was mob behavior without the mob. Though there wasn’t another bird in sight fighting off the hawk, the chickadee wasn’t deterred.

Birds shot through the sky, veering off course as soon as they saw the hawk. Blue jays arrived and sounded their alarms in unison. The hawk flew off to the east.

A blue jay landed in the sweetgum and found the red-bellied woodpecker’s stash of food in the jagged remains of a branch. I knew that spot wouldn’t remain concealed for long. I suppose the jay earned a reward for protecting the other birds and getting the hawk to move on.

I started taking pictures of the birds. Alarm calls rose and fell throughout the morning and into the afternoon, leaving the yard bereft of birds for swaths of time. But overall, the yard was bustling. By the end of the day, twenty-one species had either come for a visit or flown by overhead. It was a good day.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: January 30, 2018

  • American crow 2
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Black-capped chickadee1
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Canada goose (overhead)1
  • Cooper’s hawk1
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • European starling1,2
  • Gull sp.2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1,2
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1
  • Red-tailed hawk1
  • Rock pigeon2
  • White-throated sparrow1

The red-tailed hawk was absent this morning, and the Cooper’s hawk was present. She was perched in one of my sweetgums when I went out to the feeding station at the back of the property. When I turned to come inside, she was gone. An hour later, she returned. My clue was the thirty or so mourning doves suddenly scattering from the yard. A few birds who weren’t able to fly away in time huddled in a rose of Sharon by the fence. The hawk moved on after a few minutes.

Free to move about the yard again, an American robin and a house finch bowed to each other at the birdbath. They were just bending down to drink water, but I liked the idea of them engaging in a Buddhist ritual. I read that birds set aside their differences at the birdbath because water is critical to every bird’s survival. Foes in other contexts are cordial to one another when drinking and bathing. So they aren’t actually bowing to one another, but their civility contains an intrinsic bow.

The female northern flicker came back today with her suitor in tow. She preened then worked her way up a branch. He hopped closer to her. She ignored him. Given her real or feigned indifference, I suspect she hasn’t yet chosen him as a mate. When he tried getting even closer, she flew into another tree. He followed. She flew out of the yard. Again, he followed. I imagined him spending his entire day moving from tree to tree and yard to yard in pursuit of her. That’s probably exactly what he did.

Nine northern cardinals made their way to the yard throughout the day — four males and five females. The house finch with light orange plumage visited the finch feeding station, as did the house finch with missing wing feathers.

In the afternoon, I saw the red-tailed hawk flying over the neighbor’s yard and out of sight. Later, the Cooper’s hawk came back and landed in another neighbor’s tree. I noticed that our winter lawn, pocked by squirrels, had turned the color of infected mucus.

Locations — in my backyard and while driving through town.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: January 29, 2018

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

Every morning, I scan the yard to see which species are present and to watch their antics. This morning, I looked first at the ground and the feeders. I saw eight species merrily going about their business. I looked up to see who might be in the shrubs and trees. To my surprise, the red-tailed hawk I’d seen a few days ago was relaxing on a low branch in my neighbor’s silver maple, its big white stomach shining like a piece of porcelain. None of the birds were at all concerned about the hawk’s presence, not even the blue jays. Everyone was acting like the hawk wasn’t there. Northern cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, and house finches even perched nonchalantly in the nearby magnolia. Several more species visited while the hawk was present. They ate. They drank water. They flew this way and that. It’s like they’d all come to an agreement: the hawk would visit the area each morning to rest and nothing more, and the birds would allow it because the hawk had agreed to hunt elsewhere.

I’ve read that red-tailed hawks aren’t as much of a threat to songbirds as Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks. A chart from the 1945 publication Birds of Kansas titled “What Hawks Eat” states that only 9.2 percent of a red-tailed hawk’s diet consists of small birds, compared with 55 percent and 96.4 percent for Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks respectively. Cooper’s hawks and sharp-shinned hawks definitely pose more of a risk to songbirds than red-tailed hawks, but still — 9.2 percent is significant. If I were a songbird, I would be uneasy about having a red-tailed hawk in my vicinity, even if it seemed to have struck a deal with birds like me. Maybe having the red-tailed hawk around is beneficial in some way. Its presence might keep the Cooper’s hawk who frequents the area from paying a visit. Having a red-tailed hawk around as opposed to a Cooper’s hawk would definitely be a move in the right direction where the songbirds are concerned. The latter is five times more likely to eat them.

A few flakes of snow teased the air. Ten mourning doves composed a simple song on the utility lines. Imagine each line as part of a musical staff and the doves as notes. They were positioned in the equivalent of the F-natural and A-natural positions. The song they created looked like this:

| — _ — — | _ — — _ | } — } } |
.
.
Key: …..| = bar …..— = A-natural ….._ = F-natural …..} = rest

At one point, a mourning dove landed on the utility line above the second dove from the left. They formed a dyad comprised of F-natural and A-natural.

The hawk flew away just under half an hour after I’d first seen it, parting the songbirds as it went.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: January 27, 2018

  • American crow (overhead)1,2,4
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,3
  • Black-capped chickadee2
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Brown creeper2
  • Canada goose1,3
  • Carolina wren2
  • Cooper’s hawk1
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird2
  • European starling1,3,4
  • Gull sp. (overhead)1
  • Hairy woodpecker2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1,2,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Northern flicker1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Purple finch (female)2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-shouldered hawk2
  • Red-tailed hawk4
  • Rock pigeon4
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-breasted nuthatch2,3
  • White-throated sparrow1,2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

A downy woodpecker’s call woke me at 7 a.m. I cleaned the birdbath with a bleach solution last night, so I had to take it back outside this morning and fill it with fresh water. It’s important to keep all feeders and birdbaths clean so birds don’t transmit diseases to one another. I’ve decided to wash everything weekly so I don’t expose any of the birds who visit my yard to unsanitary conditions. Trudging outside in the cold first thing in the morning wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but it had to be done, so I did it.

Crows cawed overhead. A few dozen starlings passed over. Gulls flew by. Their mottled underparts resembled quail eggs. I believe they were juvenile ring-billed gulls. The crows came into view just above the treeline, smudges of wet black paint.

Blue jays began snapping up the shell peanuts I placed in the wreath feeder. I saw that at least one was caching the nuts under leaves strewn about the yard. I knew blue jays buried acorns. For this reason, they are considered the architects of our country’s great oak forests. A single blue jay can hide between three thousand and five thousand nuts each season. Of these, many go uncollected. The oak forests would not have spread as quickly as they did after the last glacial period without the essential contributions of blue jays. But this isn’t an oak forest. It’s just my yard. I had no idea a blue jay would hide shell peanuts in a suburban environment.

The squirrel who couldn’t figure out how to carry twigs up the sweetgum made several more unsuccessful attempts to do so this morning. While I was watching that tragicomedy play out, the Cooper’s hawk landed in the other sweetgum, where a second squirrel body-slammed her in an attempt to oust her from the area. Above, in their matching collard robes, a choir of blue jays sat atop my neighbor’s pin oak wailing at the hawk. Eventually, she flew away. Between the rumbling squirrel and the cacophonous blue jays, hanging around wasn’t worth the effort.

I got out my flute and played Vivaldi while I watched the birds. All those rollicking notes made me feel a bit like a bird and less like a human.

My partner and I met a friend at the Overland Park Arboretum where, to my dismay, I failed to locate the nesting pileated woodpeckers. I tried to traverse a washed-out section of the trail with nearly disastrous results before walking alongside white-tailed deer for a while when I thought I was lost but wasn’t.

On the drive home, we saw a coyote roving in a field. Two red-tailed hawks sat like knots on a tree’s bare limbs. The sky turned the color of a male house finch’s breast. Then it was dark.

Locations — in my backyard, at the Overland Park Arboretum, at South Lake Park, and while driving to and from these locations.


1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at the Overland Park Arboretum
3. Seen at South Lake Park
4. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: January 18, 2018

  • American crow (flying one block over)
  • 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
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Ring-billed gull
  • White-throated sparrow

I woke to see that the northern flicker had learned how to stand on my feeder’s raccoon baffle and flick his long tongue into the ports to retrieve seeds. Once he grew bored of that activity and moved on, I turned my attention to the ground, where several types of birds were eating the seed the flicker had spilled. I was able to identify a first-winter white-throated sparrow mingling with the group. I am learning how to see and interpret important markings on birds that help with identification. In the case of this particular bird, these markings include slightly streaked flanks and a smudged central breast spot, as compared with the clean gray breast of the adult. (It helped that there was an adult present for comparison.)

The Carolina wren appeared for a breakfast of plain suet. I was hoping he’d sing after he ate. He didn’t disappoint. At the front of the house, he launched into a three-note tune that I haven’t yet documented. The first note was an A-flat, and the final was a G-natural. The middle note fell between the half step. He repeated the notes three or four times for the most part before pausing and then beginning a new set. When he first started singing, I thought I detected an additional element between sets — a refrain of two buzzed notes with the same pitch. As he went on, the buzzing disappeared and he stuck with the main song. I was running to the front of the house at the time in order to hear him better, so I wasn’t able to document the pitch of the buzzed notes.

All morning, the sky was streaked with European starlings flying west. By 10 a.m., the ground rippled with the shadows of Canada geese. A little later, gulls flew over in the opposite direction. I thought of clouds passing by on warm summer days, but this was not that. This was winter, through and through.

Late morning, the Cooper’s hawk flew into my neighbor’s yard in pursuit of something it saw from the sky. She missed whatever she was after and flew to a nearby tree before flying up and over my house.

I saw a red-tailed hawk fly over the house twice today, or perhaps I saw two red-tailed hawks fly over once each. As of yesterday, I know I have two in the immediate area.

Watching these birds is like flipping through an old illustrated book, one that’s yellowed with time and holds great mystery.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: January 17, 2018

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

I woke to a red-tailed hawk perched on the utility lines at the back of my property. The bird flew into a neighbor’s tree, where it was harassed by crows before moving on. A few minutes later, I heard the alarm call of several blue jays. I assumed the red-tailed hawk was back. It wasn’t. Instead, the Cooper’s hawk was perched on my back fence with her back toward me. In the early afternoon, I saw a hawk fly over the house, but I wasn’t able to identify it. Then, while watching a downy woodpecker eat from my suet feeder, I thought I saw a white blob in a tree two doors down. I got out my binoculars. The blob was a red-tailed hawk. As I watched it, a second red-tailed hawk flew into the same tree. The first hawk hopped away from the second then took off. The second followed.

More than two dozen American goldfinches stopped by throughout the morning.

I heard, and then saw, the Carolina wren. I’m relieved that he made it through the worst of the cold weather.

Location — in my backyard.

Twitter: The Lake of the Morning

A therapist told me that EMDR changes the brain without conscious effort. Guess what else does that? The earth. Go outside.

The Cooper’s hawk perches on a silver maple. “Consciousness is terror,” I think.

In the world are some animals whose feet / Never touch the ground. Birds who only / Land on the uncertainty of open water. — Jeff Schwaner

How do I begin to describe a thousand snow geese on open water?

I belong. Say it with me. I belong.

My day started with the Cooper’s hawk killing a starling in my yard.

I decided a change of scenery was in order and went to the lake, where I saw two eagles mutilating a Canada goose. Next, I stumbled upon a hawk who had eaten a dark morph snow goose down to its wings.

I almost forgot to mention the dead trumpeter swan frozen on the lake in the most heartbreaking death pose.

The lake of the morning is not the lake of the evening is not the lake of midday.

Two hawks. No songbirds. Silence.

This afternoon, I watched a squirrel carrying leaves up to his home inside my silver maple.

The squirrels took the nest away from a northern flicker, who was upset today upon returning home only to find it occupied.

The squirrels need the nest because they are going to have a litter. The flicker needs the nest for protection from the elements.

Once you love birds, you have to love trees. Then you have to love soil and air. Berries and seeds and insects and arachnids. Sun. Rain. Wind. Water. And everything. You have to love everything.

Whose migration over open space / Turns everyone’s heads though they hear / Only your voice on a quiet morning. — Jeff Schwaner

I breathe the same air the birds breathe.

The despair. Don’t look at it. Look up.

Evening burns blue. Amnestic, darkness shrouds the tree canopy.