If you’re anything like me, you’re spending a lot more time at home these days. We’re all adjusting to new routines.
When I let Louie out this morning, (this particular routine remains the same!) the birds were singing. It made me feel better to hear them! Then I realized the obvious; birds are going about their feathery business, unperturbed by humans. And I also realized that I’ve been –justifiably–so preoccupied and lost in my own thoughts, that I haven’t taken a look around. Nature is out there.
“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence, we could rise up rooted, like trees.”—Rainer Maria Rilke
Birds also play a large role in my middle grade fantasy work-in-progress. I’m finding myself lost in research more than usual.
I decided that sharing some of the wonder of birds with you was a perfect idea! I hope talking about birds will distract you and help you feel a bit more grounded. Forgive me for mixing metaphors.
I want to begin with owls!
I love owls! Athena agreed. The Greek goddess of wisdom is often seen with an owl. She and I have much in common! (being intelligent, bird-loving, and beautiful.)
The statue (on the left) is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The copper statue and the drawing (both below) are also at the Met. The statue is adorable. The drawing? What do you think?
Owls have arresting eyes, they fly silently, and are often heard but not seen, adding to their mystique. They’ve lived beside humans since ancient times. Owls are intelligent and sociable.
Identifying males from females gets complicated. (doesn’t everything?) With the Snowy Owls (slideshow above) males are whiter than females. As males grow older, they get whiter. Females are larger. (Maybe I’d rather be a different owl species…) Snowy owls breed in the treeless Arctic tundra. Because of their living conditions, these owls need more insulation, making them among the heaviest species. (up to four pounds) Snowy owls are diurnal. (diurnal = active during the day) So not all owls are nocturnal!
Screech owls are small, about seven inches. (Robin-sized) They are masters of disguise, and like to nest in hollow tree trunks. The one in the picture below is a red variety and rarer. Okay, and not in a tree trunk. (Go ahead and laugh at me) They’re in decline, so if you have some free time, (!) consider building a nesting box for one of these little cuties.
The adorable owl pictured with the pushy squirrel is a Boreal Owl. They are also small, like their screech owl cousins. They are sit-and-wait predators, hunting from perches. If you’re looking for one of these owls, it’s good to know that they roost in a different tree every day. Gaze 15–20 feet above the ground and close to the trunk.
The wing span of the Great Gray (Starting slide show below!) is impressive, as is the photo. (Thank you, James!) Grays are big owls, which means taking in calories. In winter, they eat up to 7 vole sized mammals/day. Despite weighing only 2.5 pounds, they can break through hard packed snow to grab a small mammal. They have a broad range, found in North America, Scandinavia, Russia, Siberia, and Mongolia.
The Great Horned Owl is aggressive and powerful in its hunting. It’s a huge owl, and can take prey as varied as rabbits, hawks, snakes, and even skunks. Great Horned Owls are nicknamed The Tiger Owl for their demeanor and striping.
Barred Owls have been around for over 11,000 years! Pleistocene fossils from Florida, Tennessee, and Ontario prove this. They’re homebodies. A recent study tagged 158 of these owls, and a few seasons later, none had moved farther than 6 miles away. If you can attract a pair to your yard with a nesting box, they wouldn’t abandon you! They look similar to the Great Gray. You can distinguish between them because of the Barred Owl’s dark, soulful eyes. (like Louie’s eyes!)
Remember, not all owls are nocturnal. Burrowing Owls actually live underground in burrows (hence the name!) that they’ve either dug themselves or taken over from a prairie dog, ground squirrel, or tortoise. Burrowing owls hunt during the day, and on the ground! Just look at those long legs.
I thought I’d add a bit about songbirds. They are often overlooked in top ten lists but they shouldn’t be! There are so many lovely songbirds out there that I could never include them all. I had to cap it off.
The orange bird below is a Varied Thrush. (I know, I always think orange = Oriole, too) Their call is a haunting series of long, eerie whistles. You only need to listen for about twenty seconds. (link highlighted) Not sure why the recording is eight minutes long…
Cedar waxwings have the silkiest looking feathers, ever. They got their name from the drops of red on their wings. They adore fruit and can survive on fruit alone for months.
The American goldfinch is a welcome summer sight. The males are bright, females still recognizable as yellow but less so. I used become excited in spring, thinking ‘the goldfinches are back.’ In fact, they never left! (I was little…cut me some slack!) They change plumage as the seasons change, actually molting twice a year. Most birds molt once.
Any list I’d create would include a blue bird! I love blue. (read more about how blue is rare in nature at the link highlighted)
Indigo Buntings are finch-sized, like the goldfinch. Indigo Buntings nest in dense shrubs or trees. The female constructs the nest and incubates the eggs on her own. Maybe the males are too vain to help out.They sure are gorgeous. (Okay, I don’t want to be an Indigo Bunting, either.)
There are over a dozen different types of wrens. They are small, shy, and mysterious, often creeping about among fallen logs and dense tangles, behaving more like a mouse than a bird. I think wrens resemble mice, too! (Ironic because I was just talking about owls…. ahem…owls do eat mice.)
Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks have lovely singing voices. (the link is to Cornell’s website if you care to listen) They are members of the cardinal family. They lay pale greenish-blue eggs, spotted with reddish brown. Incubation is by both parents. in the winter, rose-breasted grosbeaks migrate to Central and South America.
I was going to stop but I couldn’t leave out my favorite, the Black-Capped Chickadee. (slideshow below) They are known as the world’s friendliest songbirds. With a little patience, you can get them to eat seeds out of your hand. Literally!
And of course, the beautiful (blue!) Eastern Bluebird. That’s a male feeding his hungry baby in the first picture. They’re family-oriented. They won’t come to a feeder, you need to attract them with mealworms. They are facing stiff competition lately from invasive sparrows and starlings for nesting space. (Here is a nesting box plan for these little beauties)
Want to attract more birds to your yard? You can manage this without the mess of feeders or any carpentry skills. How? With a birdbath!
All birds need a dependable supply of fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing. Putting a birdbath in your yard may attract birds that don’t eat seeds and wouldn’t otherwise come to your feeders. (Like those beautiful Cedar Waxwings and Eastern Bluebirds. And hummingbirds! Butterflies!)
There you go. Second pic above was taken in my yard!
Interestingly, birds prefer baths that are set at ground level, where they typically find water in nature. For a great STEM activity with your kids, put a saucer on your deck with clean water. That’s all you need! You’ll even attract those butterflies if you put a brick or rocks in the bath, so there’s a shallow spot for them to rest! (If you want to read about how butterflies see flowers, click on the link!)
Try your best to keep the water clean. Birds get sick from bacteria in water, too.
While birds are bathing they can be vulnerable to predators, especially to cats. If you have a cat, please keep him or her indoors!
You may feel isolated but you aren’t alone. I’m here! Email me on my contact page! (And please forgive me for all the exclamation points.) The birds are around, too. They didn’t provide me with an email address. But you can head outside and look for them.
“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” –John Muir
What do you see in your backyard right now? Or if you take a walk, look for birds! Take a pic and we can try to ID the bird together. I’d love for you to share with me.
Which beacon of hope, I mean bird did you like the best above?
May you all fly free from stress today. And every day.
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