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

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: February 18, 2018

  • American crow2
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,2
  • American tree sparrow2
  • Belted kingfisher2
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose (overhead)1,2
  • Carolina wren (heard)1
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird2
  • European starling1,2
  • Great horned owl (heard)1
  • Gull sp. (overhead)2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,2
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Northern flicker (male and female)1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3
  • Snow goose (overhead)2
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-throated sparrow1
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

Robins played in the neighbor’s yard. The female northern flicker landed on another neighbor’s chimney cover. Two red-bellied woodpeckers scurried up yet another neighbor’s tree. In my yard, two mourning doves pumped their heads at one another in the silver maple. Later, my partner and I took our dog to Shawnee Mission Park. It was cold and windy. We saw eastern bluebirds and a male belted kingfisher.

Locations — in my backyard and at Shawnee Mission Park.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Shawnee Mission Park

Bird Roll Call: February 12, 2018

  • American crow (overhead)
  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • 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
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • White-throated sparrow

A mourning dove fell from the sky like a paper airplane. American goldfinches clung to the top of the sweetgum tree like seed pods. The pair of eastern bluebirds arrived late and left after spending a few moments at the birdbath. The male and female northern flickers visited separately during the day. In the afternoon, the male did his territorial rolling rattle call from the patio roof. The sound echoed throughout the house.

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

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 24, 2018

  • American crow2
  • American goldfinch1,2
  • American robin2
  • Black-capped chickadee2
  • Blue jay1
  • Brown creeper2
  • Canada goose (overhead)1,2
  • Carolina wren2
  • Common goldeneye2
  • Cooper’s / sharp-shinned hawk (one perched and one soaring)2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • European starling1,2
  • Gadwall2
  • Great blue heron2
  • Hooded merganser2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-headed woodpecker*2
  • Red-tailed hawk (overhead)2
  • White-throated sparrow1,2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

There were no birds in my yard when I woke, which was a little later than usual. I decided to sit at the window anyway. I thought I could spend some time meditating at the very least. Moments after I sat down, more than one hundred Canada geese flew by overhead. Their motion and sound brought the sky to life. I felt my spirits lift. Slowly, birds arrived in the yard, but not in the numbers I usually see. I don’t know if hawks were keeping them away or if the warmer weather makes things like my birdbath and feeders less appealing. Notably, I didn’t see any black-capped chickadees, Carolina wrens, or northern flickers today. I didn’t even hear a wren, which is unusual. Perhaps I simply woke too late to hear the birds sing.

Mid-morning I decided to see if a friend wanted to accompany me to Leawood City Park, where I hoped there would be more activity than there was in my yard. Things were relatively slow there, too. There was no sign of the hairy woodpeckers, ring-billed ducks, or wood ducks. My friend did, however, make an excellent discovery: a red-headed woodpecker on a branch at the top of a tree. This was her second time birding. What a find for a second outing! This was my first time seeing a red-headed woodpecker in real life. It is even more beautiful than any photo could suggest. Its head feathers were the color of red velvet cake and looked like they were as soft as actual velvet. Its folded wings gave its back the appearance of being half black, half white. Its rump and underparts were as white as the snow that still dotted drifts of leaves near the path. Its black, forked tail was pressed hard against the branch as it drilled holes in the wood with the precision and consideration of an artist painting Chinese characters on a handscroll.

Red-headed woodpeckers have been listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN since 2004, which means the species could be threatened with extinction in the near future. I wish that weren’t the case. That knowledge affected my experience today. I was incredibly happy to see a rare bird but extremely upset about the circumstances that have contributed to declining numbers in these birds, namely loss and degradation of its habitats.

Another interesting find was a turtle sunning on a stick protruding from the creek. I believe it was a red-eared slider. They brumate this time of year, but the warmer weather we’ve been having may have enticed this one to come to the surface.

When I got home, the birds in my yard were busy at the feeders. Still no black-capped chickadees, Carolina wrens, or northern flickers anywhere in sight. After the northern cardinals and mourning doves called it a night, I ambled out to the birdbath and changed out the water for tomorrow’s visitors. It’s going to be warm. I’m not sure I’ll have much company, but I’ll sit at the window and wait.

Locations — in my backyard and at Leawood City Park. A single asterisk indicates first sighting.


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