There are some who start their retirement long before they stop working. -Robert Half

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Grammy's Guide to Backyard Birds.

Now that the weather has started warming up, Grammy, Papa and I spend a lot of time sitting at the table and watching birds out of the big window facing the backyard. We even had to change my dinnertime seating assignment so that I didn't have to have my back to the window. In preparation for spring, Grammy gathered her bird books, identification guides and binoculars for easy classification and admiration of our backyard wildlife. So, for your viewing pleasure, let me introduce you to...

Grammy's Guide to Backyard Birds
Birds We Like:
1) American Goldfinch: Grammy says this is actually just a yellow sparrow. This bird is classified by its small size and yellow color. It has black wings and a black stripe on its head and eats small seeds like thistle. Our bird guide states that they: "Specialize in eating fruits and seeds of plants in sunflower family." We have a finch feeder, which is a long bag filled with thistle, that hangs on the back porch. It has a picture of a finch on it; probably so they know it's for them.
2) Purple Finch: We don't get very many of these, but they are a dark reddish-brown color and are bigger than the Goldfinch. That's all we know about them.
3) Oriole: This was an exciting year for orioles in our backyard. A lady from church told Grammy that if she puts grape jelly in the backyard, she'll get orioles because that is their favorite thing to eat. We've never gotten orioles before. In fact, my dad, who is a forester, had never even seen one before coming to Owensville one weekend. Needless to say, they do eat grape jelly. And a lot of it, might I add. Grammy also bought a special oriole feeder and special oriole food, but they won't eat out of it. Papa says it's because we spoil them with the grape jelly. They do eat from the hummingbird feeders, though, and one day when Papa was watching it try to eat from the small holes made for hummingbirds, he looked at me, laughed and said: "They sure are dumb, aren't they?" Anyway, orioles truly are the prettiest birds I've ever seen. We have two types: the Baltimore Oriole and the Orchard Oriole. Baltimore Orioles are bright orange with black heads and black wings. And when I say bright, I mean it. Think of the brightest orange crayon that Crayola makes and multiply it by two and you have the brightness of these birds. Well, the males at least. Female animals always have to be uglier. My friend, Abby, said it's just because boys have to try and dazzle us before we choose one. The Orchard Orioles are more of a darker orange. Think the Crayola crayon called Burnt Sienna.
4) Northern Cardinal: Characterized by their red color and tufted heads, these birds are one of our favorites. I like the female cardinals better than the male cardinals (the typical all-red color) because they are cuter. They are a pretty brown color with a subtle red tint and they don't have that black patch over their eyes. Grammy loves cardinals and whenever she sees one, she runs to the window and says: "There's my little cardinal! Oh look at him! He's so polite!" Manners are important in our judgement of birds and cardinals are the most polite. If one bird is eating from the bird feeder, they will wait for it to finish before they fly up. And if there is another bird waiting, they will scoot over so they can share the feeder.
5) Martin: Honestly, I've never seen a martin, but Grammy tells me they exist. Apparently they eat eggshells to build up calcium for their eggs, so Grammy always takes her old eggshells out into the yard for them. We also have martin houses, so I guess they do exist somewhere.
6) Ruby-throated Hummingbird: I never realized how loud these birds are. They sound like over-sized killer bees and drink nectar, or sugar-water in our case. Our bird guide says they're shy, but it definitely lies. Our hummingbirds are not afraid of humans or lawn mowers or other animals. In fact, sometimes they get so close I think they might hit me. The other weekend my brother Andy came to visit and was sitting on the back porch swing when two hummingbirds swooped right toward him and buzzed around him for a second before flying off to their feeders for hydration. Hummingbirds are also very loving and attached to each other (at least Grammy and I think they are). The other day, two hummingbirds were flying by the window and one of them ran into it, forcefully I might add. Grammy and I jumped up from the table and watched it go and perch on the top of the porch. The whole time it was sitting there, its friend was buzzing around it making sure it was going to survive. It was so cute. When it finally recuperated, they both flew off together toward the setting sun.
7) House Wren: These birds are small and brown and live in the special wren houses that Grammy puts in the backyard. And, yes, that is their natural habitat. Sometimes swallows build nests in their houses, which means we have to go and pull out the swallow nests so the wrens can move in, taking us back to my least favorite backyard activity.
8) Tufted Titmouse: Small, gray birds with little tufts on their heads that make them look like they're wearing Robin Hood hats. These are my favorite birds because they're really small and they bounce around when they are on the ground. I like animals that hop. I also like it because it has this cute little white face and its description in the bird guide says its song is "hauntingly pretty." What wonderful descriptive language! I wish we had the Plain Titmouse in our area, too because the bird guide says: "Can be saucy when accustomed to people." Any bird described as "saucy" is a bird I would like to be around.
9) Mourning Dove: I used to think these birds represented peace and happiness. That was when I thought they were called Morning Doves, as in: "Look at this beautiful morning! The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and all the people of the world are holding hands in harmony!" Not the case. They are actually called Mourning Doves, as in: "Let me mourn the condition of the world we live in. The rainforest is being destroyed, children are dying of malnutrition and diseases every day and war and fighting are leading us to self-destruction." Isn't it funny how the spelling of a word can completely change the meaning? Hopefully our doves still know where to find that olive leaf. I think they do.
10) White-breasted Nuthatch: These birds are also some of my favorites. They have blue backs, white breasts (obviously), and either a black head (males) or a black stripe across their necks (females). The best part about them is their ability to defy gravity and walk headfirst down tree trunks and branches. It is so incredible! It looks like they should be plummeting to the ground, but instead they just scamper around without a care. If Spiderman had a favorite bird, which I'm sure he does, I'm confident it would be this one.
11) Red-winged Blackbirds: These birds look like regular blackbirds, but they have a big red spot at the top of their wings that kind of flashes when they fly. Even though they're "possibly the most abundant land bird in the United States," I still really like them. Grammy likes them, too, because sometimes they chase away our least favorite birds.
12) Indigo Bunting: This is Papa's favorite bird. It is small and bright blue and, if possible, gets even brighter in the sun; it almost looks like it shimmers! Whenever we see one of these, we call to Papa: "Papa! Here comes one of your Indigo Buntings!" and Papa comes over to the window to watch it.
13) American Robin: I don't know why, but I don't really like robins. I think it's because they are always carrying some dead insect in their mouths, but Grammy likes them so they get to be in the "Birds we like" category. There is also this robin that always chirps mean things at me when I try to weed the flower bed on the side of the house. She must have a nest over there, but still, there is no need for all that racket! Grammy thinks they're nice, caring birds, though because they protect their young and are always searching for food to feed them with.
14) Red-bellied Woodpecker: These woodpeckers are striped black and white and have a tan belly, not a red belly. I don't know where they got their name, but I didn't name them! The males have a red top of their head and the females have red on the back of their head, making them look like they have a receding hairline. I don't really have much to say about these except they do what all woodpeckers do. They peck holes in wooden things.
15) Eastern Bluebird: This is another of Grammy's favorite bird, but we don't see them very often. They are blue with brown bellies and like to eat fruit. Sometimes after we take a swallow nest out of the bird houses, we put apples around the bottom of it to entice bluebirds to live there. I don't know if it is working because I don't like to open the bird houses to check what's living in there. One time, Grammy went to check one and a bird flew out at her head. I don't really like it when animals fly at my head, unless it is a chinchilla. I think that is the one animal that I would like flying into my face because they are so cute and fluffy! One time my sister and I had to pet-sit for a family with a chinchilla and we would just go and sit in its room and let it jump around on the furniture and roll around in volcano dust. I had no idea that volcano dust even existed, but it does and chinchillas like to spin around in it. It was life changing.

Birds We Don't Like:
1) Common Grackle: The most despised of our backyard birds, these vicious killers are black with beady little eyes, a long tail and a long, pointed beak. Our bird guide describes them like this: "Thrives in cities, suburbs. Extremely aggressive toward smaller birds; steals eggs, eats nestlings, decapitates adults." DECAPITATES!? Every time I see one, all I can do is imagine him flying toward a bird and slicing its head off with its beak. And, unfortunately, we have a lot in our backyard. Sometimes Grammy and I sit at the table and watch for them to come so we can bang on the windows and scare them away. Being the evil birds they are, however, they are no longer scared of our banging so now we have to get up and run outside to scare them away. One day they were eating all the suet put out for the robins, so Grammy started muttering: " I'll just poison them! I'll find some arsenic and put it on that suet." Other things we want to happen to them include: be eaten by a hawk, hit them with a BB gun, and let a snake get them. Now, we're not vicious people, but if you mess with our birds, you better watch your back. Grammy says: "This is supposed to be a safe haven for birds, not some place for GRACKLES!"
2) Blue Jays: These are large, blue birds who tend to bully the other, smaller birds away from the bird feeders. They tend to scare the cardinals away on a regular basis, which is not the way to get on Grammy's good side. They also can't open seeds on their own, so they fill up their throats with tons of seeds and then go to a hard surface to break them all open. So, they're greedy and scare cute birds away: two points that are not in their favor.
3) Hawks: Unless they're eating snakes or grackles.

Birds We Don't Really Care About:
1) Barn Swallow: These birds come over from the barn on the farm behind our house. We don't really care about them unless they make nests in the wren houses. When they fly, they tend to fly upwards and then swoop down again. They are black with brown bellies and kind of look like bats when they flap their wings.
2) Sparrow: Basically, just a brown bird. They are kind of cute because they have such little beaks, but not cute enough to be in our "Birds we like" category.


  1. Wow, this was a really informative article! We love birds at our house, too but haven't done a good job of identifying what we have. I will have to do that!

  2. The Blue Jays aren't THAT bad!!! They are better than the Grackles at least!!!!

  3. I thought of Grandma Rene when I read this. She always loved birds.

  4. Do you have orioles and humminbirds together? We have not had hummingbirds for a while but have a pair of orioles all the time. And I think I have a grackle....Is that why my hummingbirds left do you think?

  5. My dad told me last night that his hummingbirds go through 8 cups of sugar water a day. NOMNOMNOMNOMNOM!

  6. You have some great birds! I agree, the female cardinal is cuter.
    anna smith