Bird Roll Call: March 24, 2018

  • American crow1,3
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,3
  • Bald eagle3
  • Blue jay1
  • Brown creeper (two)1
  • Bufflehead (three pairs)2
  • Canada goose3
  • Carolina wren (heard)1
  • Common grackle1,3
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • European starling1,3
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2,3
  • Mourning dove1,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Northern flicker (male and female)1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1
  • Red-tailed hawk (two flying together)3
  • Red-winged blackbird3
  • White-breasted nuthatch1
  • White-throated sparrow1

There were birds all over the yard today. It was wonderful. I put a new suet feeder out, one that’s starling-proof. The downy woodpeckers and northern flickers checked it out, but they aren’t sure how to get at the suet.

The male and female northern flickers perched in one of the sweetgum trees for a long time. The wind mussed their feathers. They looked like they weren’t sure what to do next. Dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows hopped around on the lawn like robotic toys. American goldfinches and pine siskins amiably shared the two nyjer feeders. Common grackles, house finches, house sparrows, mourning doves, and northern cardinals occupied the pole feeder all day. In the evening, a male white-breasted nuthatch bustled up and down one of the sweetgums. A bit later, two brown creepers scaled the shaggy bark of the silver maple. As the sun set, I heard a Carolina wren singing day into night. He must have had a good meal to sing like that.

I saw several birds while my partner and I ran errands in the morning. The most notable was a bald eagle flying over 103rd Street just east of Antioch with a squirrel in its talons. I believe I also saw several juvenile bald eagles in the sky in Shawnee, Kansas.

Locations — in my backyard, at Meadowbrook Park, and while driving across town.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Meadowbrook Park
3. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: March 23, 2018

  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Blue jay1
  • Black-capped chickadee (heard)1
  • Common grackle1
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • European starling1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1
  • White-throated sparrow1

I had to take one of the suet feeders down because the starlings were mobbing it. As soon as it was gone, the downy woodpeckers started spending more time at the nearby upside-down suet feeder. I didn’t realize how much the starlings’ presence was bothering them. The blue jays have no use for my peanut feeder now that it’s warmed up and there’s other food available. They fly away now when I come out to fill it. I miss seeing four of five of them flying to the feeder at once.

Tonight, my lawn was littered with juncos, white-throated sparrows, and mourning doves. Cardinals, finches, and sparrows crowded the feeders. I never feel alone when birds are near.

Locations — in my backyard and while driving across town.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen while driving

Twitter: Bird Blind

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing / and rightdoing there is a field. / I’ll meet you there. — Rumi

I imagine the field of no-ideas rustling with sparrows.

I’ve decided to come home to myself. I’ve been away too long.

I mean, my body has already come home to itself. My mind just got wind of it and is trying to take all the credit.

I feel a twinge of sadness when the American goldfinches fly off to my neighbor’s pin oak.

I feel bad about playing with boas when I was younger. I take feathers seriously now.

I waited all morning for the eastern bluebirds.

I watched birds for years without seeing them.

My house has become a bird blind.

I woke to bluebirds.

A yellow ball flies through the air: children playing.

The more I watch trees, the more I dream of trees.

Backlit birds and a bright gash in the dark sky.

A chipmunk scuttles home before the storm.

A blue jay covers a peanut with leaves before going back for another.

I don’t want to look at birds because I want to anticipate looking at birds.

The rain falls whether you think about it or not.

A wet house finch sings from my windowsill.

Bird Roll Call: February 19, 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-breasted nuthatch
  • White-throated sparrow

The day was dark and stormy. I love the way birds behave in this weather, not panicked but animated, driven. A bright gash opened behind the trees, backlighting the birds. It seemed to prompt my favorite chipmunk to return home before the weather got any worse. A blue jay covered a peanut with leaves. A house finch slipped on the wet roof. Another blue jay unleashed the dreaded hawk alarm. American goldfinches flittered like moths.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: February 17, 2018

  • American crow3
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose (overhead)3
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • European starling1
  • Great horned owl (heard)1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker (male and female)1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (male and female)1
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3
  • White-throated sparrow1

Sleet covered the ground. It was dark and thirty-five degrees. In the distance, the birds were shadows moving among branches. A dozen European starlings flew to the east, blotting the sky. Blue jays followed. American goldfinches scattered like flecks of gold tossed from someone’s hand. A drenched squirrel sifted through wet sunflower seeds littering the ground. A house finch, a dark-eyed junco, and a white-throated sparrow sat in the lilac at the back of the property as if its bare branches could provide protection from the rain.

Birds funneled back slowly, starting with the juncos. Six white-throated sparrows scratched at the cold soil. A northern flicker and downy woodpecker landed in one of the sweetgum trees at the same time. A house finch sang from his perch on the sunflower seed feeder. The sky grew lighter.

Locations — in my backyard, at Meadowbrook Park, and while driving.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Meadowbrook 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 10, 2018

  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Belted kingfisher2
  • Black-capped chickadee1
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose3
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • Eastern bluebird1
  • European starling1,3
  • Gull sp.1,3
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker (two males)1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (male and female)1
  • Red-tailed hawk1
  • White-throated sparrow1

I woke late. Several house finches were already piled into the dogwood for a mid-morning nap. The male red-bellied woodpecker was filling a rotted-out sweetgum branch with food. Squirrels were purging old material from their nest in the other sweetgum tree. The detritus fell to the ground and scared the dark-eyed juncos.

A red-tailed hawk made a brief appearance, and the birds only acted half scared. This hawk looked much younger than the last one who visited. Its eyes were barely pigmented enough to be called citrine, and its feathers were in pristine condition. The hawk didn’t stay long. After it left, the songbirds returned to their business which, on a frigid day like this, amounted to eating as much as possible to provide the calories needed for the long, cold night ahead. I read that birds can lose up to ten percent of their body weight on winter nights. Foods like suet, peanut butter, and sunflower seeds provide the fats that are essential this time of year.

Two male northern flickers arrived in the yard at about the same time. They seemed to size each other up. I don’t know if these are the same two males who were vying for the female’s attention a little while back or if the area is overrun with these fellows. The two sat on the fence together for a little bit then separated and did their own thing, one staying on the fence and the other foraging in the garden despite the mild protestations of mourning doves.

Eastern bluebirds arrived in the afternoon. I put peanut butter bits out for them, but they haven’t found them yet. They primarily visit for the water, which is in short supply when everything freezes.

My partner and I went out looking for a suitable branch to append to the main feeder pole. We ended up behind a lawn and garden store in an area that overlooks part of Indian Creek. I stepped to the edge of the cut bank just as a belted kingfisher flew across the water with a fish in its mouth. We rounded out the day with a few Canada geese before returning home with a branch that had broken off a flowering tree in a Walmart parking lot. It wasn’t easy to cram the branch into the car, but it was worth the effort. The birds are going to love their new perch.

Locations — in my backyard, at Indian Creek near 103rd and Roe, and at Indian Creek near 103rd and Metcalf.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Indian Creek near 103rd and Nall
3. Seen at Indian Creek near 103rd and Metcalf

Twitter: A World of Wounds

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise. ― Aldo Leopold

I enjoy feeding the birds.

A murmuration of starlings buzzed the cars on I-35 today.

The female northern flicker appears to have selected one of two suitors. The rejected male spent the day looking for the female. He sat in my yard calling for her. “Kyeer, kyeer. Kyeer, kyeer.”

The red-tailed hawk returned to the yard this afternoon. I have a crush.

These birds are my commitment remaining in the present.

I heard a blue jay cheep like a small songbird at the red-tailed hawk today. I’ve never seen that approach before, and I have no idea what informed the behavior.

I just played Vivaldi on my flute for the house finches.

Many people have an idea of what a bird is, but because they don’t pay close attention to birds, they don’t know what an actual bird is.

If you don’t pay close attention to birds, don’t write about them. Certainly don’t snare them in your nondescript haiku. Real birds deserve better than what you have to say about them.

I like men who walk their dogs in the woods.

Two paths trisect the snow-mantled yard: one to the birdbath, another to the bird feeders.

Juxtaposition: a brown creeper on the sweetgum, a bald eagle in the sky.

When I grow up, I want to spend all my time with birds.

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: February 4, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Blue jay
  • Carolina wren
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Eastern bluebird
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Pine siskin
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • White-throated sparrow

Today, I looked up at one of the sweetgum trees and thought squirrels had built a nest on a low branch. The nest was actually the red-tailed hawk. I got out my new camera and took dozens of photos. The images allowed me to see much more detail than I could have otherwise. The luminous amber eye. The back feathers frayed into the shape of throwing stars. The look on the hawk’s face when blue jays were diving at its head — not irritated but something closer to hurt or disappointment.

The songbirds didn’t scatter at the hawk’s presence. They maintained a respectful (and safe) distance in the bushes and trees lining the fence. Once the blue jays succeeded in driving the hawk away, the birds emerged.

It started to snow, teasingly at first and then with conviction. The red-tailed hawk came back and sat like an urn in the neighbor’s silver maple. None of the songbirds were bothered by the raptor’s presence. Perhaps the weather was bad enough for everyone to agree to share the same space.

Dark-eyed juncos hopped through the new snow like children. I took photos of the juncos, the male northern flicker, the red-bellied woodpecker, half a downy woodpecker (she was moving too fast for me to catch her in the frame), and several house finches, including the one who is missing several wing feathers.

Looking at the photos later, I saw that the northern flicker’s breast and belly have the appearance of hearts instead of spots — dozens of tiny valentines saying to the female who passed him over, “Pick me, pick me.” Maybe that’s what his plaintive cry means. “Kyeer, kyeer. Kyeer, kyeer.” Pick me. Pick me.

I am so in love with these birds. Their lives are beautiful, complicated, and heartbreaking. I can’t wait to see them again tomorrow.

I almost forgot to mention that two eastern bluebirds visited the yard today. Such a wonderful surprise!

Location — in my backyard.