Bird Brain

The first time I was ever intrigued by a bird while walking was when I saw this guy, an indigo bunting, at the end of a trail along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

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Indigo bunting, Shenandoah National Park, late summer 2013

We’d just finished a 10-mile hike that we’d thought would be 8, and while it was a good hike, those last two miles dragged. Whether it was the effect of having wearily slogged through the last two miles, sweatily and steadily uphill, or simply the bright blue color, the sight of this bird perked me up and captured my attention. This, after I’d always thought that bird watchers were a bit…. well, loony, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Fast forward two and a half years, and I’m hooked. This is partly the effect of having moved out of an apartment that overlooked a highway and into a house that has an actual yard, and partly the effect of having a husband whose first mission, before we’d even purchased the house, was to strike up a conversation with the sales clerk at the local bird supply store (yay small businesses!).

It took a full month after we moved in, but by early January we had a bird feeder in the backyard. This was soon followed by a second feeder, and a baffle to (mostly) deter squirrels.

Now, we’ve got five feeders, and a house whose squatters we had to evict. And no, the chickadee on the branch below was not the one we had to kick out. Instead, it was a wren (or two). Who knew that wrens 1) build dummy nests so other birds can’t use a space, and 2) fling other birds’ babies out of their nests to die? I didn’t.

17108586650_b7692cd01d_kDay after day, wrens kept filling this box with sticks and dirt. Now, we’ve left the lid open to deter any wrens from continuing to build these dummy nests. And we’d been so hopeful that the chickadees would set up house there!

At any rate, the thrill of each day this spring has been to listen to and watch the birds in our backyard. Migratory birds, such as the hummingbird below, have begun to arrive, and they add great variety to our usual mix of wrens, sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, and tit-mice.

17295663391_7384c84591_zNow, when we go hiking, we’re much more attuned to what’s in the trees and spot birds more quickly, as well as better identify them by their calls. It’s fun. It’s like opening the door to a room only to find that the room has countless other doors in it. And yes, I guess I still think bird watchers are a little loony, even if I am one of them!

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