Thursday, June 28, 2012

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, Carolina chickadees, and Eastern bluebirds: what's in YOUR back yard?

Eastern bluebird (above) and great-crested flycatcher (below left); National Geographic

I'm struck by how many books we have about birds—pages and pages of them! The ones I covet at present are Birds of the World: 365 Days and Birdsong by the Seasons: A Year of Listening to Birds, but it's hard to be satiated. (I'll bet The Bird: A Natural History of Who Birds Are, Where They Came From, and How They Live would add greatly to one's storehouse of bird lore.) Birdwatching can be a consuming passion, as evidenced by the mainstream film The Big Year, in which the unholy trio of Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson compete to spot the rarest birds in the world (has anyone seen it?).
Besides their beauty, birds are alluring because they make music naturally. While trapped in the blighted landscape of "No Man's Land," the hero of Sebastian Faulks' war novel Birdsong has recurrent waking dreams in which he's back in the French countryside, hearing birds call to each other in the lush greenery. And of course Charlie Parker acquired the nickname "Bird" because of his wondrous, ecstatic flights on the saxophone.
Take this quick National Geographic quiz to test your knowledge of birds that might be lurking in your very own back yard. (I did abysmally. Guess I should stop looking at the pretty pictures and pay attention to the texts.) They also have a "backyard bird identifier" feature.
'Morning Song' by Carl Thompson
“The robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to the top of the wall and he opened his beak and sang a loud, lovely trill, merely to show off. Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off - and they are nearly always doing it.”― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Audubon's robins

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  1. I know next to nothing about birds, but I've always loved hearing them sing (unless it's early in the morning and I'm trying to sleep in).

  2. Just the other day I saw a bird that looked exactly like the Morning Song' by Carl Thompson bird, it made me laugh cause it couldn't keep its mouth closed.

  3. I love that quote from The Secret Garden my all time favorite movie as a kid!

  4. Well, I got 70 percent--I've heard ravens and would not call them "songbirds" with their loud, harsh voice. But they made excellent weather forecasters, and for 2 years I parked the car according to whether they hollered snow or not. They were right 100% of the time. Then the super cut down all the trees on the property. Now we only have mosquitoes.

  5. It's sort of a mixed blessing, but I have regular visits from a pileated woodpecker in the tree outside of my bedroom window. Utterly fascinating and certainly gorgeous, though we keep much different hours:)

  6. OMG let me tell you, I don't know what I have in my backyard, but there is a(?) bird out there that has the widest variety of calls I have ever heard. It's almost as if he is seeing how many different noises he can make, and believe me, it's a TON. I'm planning on recording the different noises this guy makes because they are really interesting sounding. I've actually recently been interested in trying to find out what sort of mechanism makes a bird's call. I wonder if it's more akin to a person whistling or a person singing. Anyway, this particular bird is extremely talented at making a wide variety of racket. FUN STUFF!!

    1. Criminal Minds viewers might remember Gideon's love of the mockingbird, capable of imitating dozens of other bird calls, and even such noises as pneumatic drills (glad I don't know that one) You might have a Northern Mockingbird in your yard. Lucky devil!

  7. That is a really good painting by Carl Thompson. The texture of the bird's body conveys its softness, in contrast to the hard, shiny surfaces of the leaves and the water drops reflecting the light. I first thought it was a photograph!