You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘birds’ category.

Okay, so, I live in an apartment. I don’t have my own yard. We have nice shared grounds, though. I’m on the second floor and from a couple of my windows I can see a huge, beautiful horsechestnut tree and a smaller tree that I still haven’t been able to identify. It’s one of those maybe-tree, maybe-shrub creatures, with what looks like multiple trunks all coming from the base.

There’s a woman who lives downstairs who enjoys putting lots of flowering plants into containers out back, and she also feeds the birds. Just outside her window she put a bird feeder hanger with several different plates for seed hanging from it. She does this every spring and summer and by now has attracted a lot of wild birds—sparrows, nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, jays, cardinals. But I can’t enjoy them too well from up here because it’s at an awkward angle for me to look out my window at them. I decided I needed my own feeder, which may not sound like a monumental moment to you, dear reader, but was a big deal for me since I’d never done it before. I waned something inexpensive and I found it: a $4.99 cone-shaped green metal suet feeder. For another couple of dollars I purchased a suet cake with red pepper in it because the birds don’t mind the pepper but the pesty squirrels can’t stand it, so they stay away. Two evenings ago I set up this contraption on a low-hanging, sturdy branch of the shrub-tree that I’d be able to see easily from my windows, and when I got up unusually early yesterday morning (thanks to a cat that woke me by vomiting on my bed) I remembered about the birds and went to have a look. They were having a party! Thanks to the lady downstairs and her big bird collection it didn’t take long for word to spread that there was a new feeder in town. I watched throughout the morning as they chipped away at the brick-colored block of suet, and by the end of the day it was completely gone.


On one of the lovely sunny days we had last week, before this nasty-ass heat wave, I looked out the back window to where my mom was pointing. Two fairly hefty brown birds were pecking at the ground. Turned out they were woodpeckers, but a kind that often looks for ants on the ground instead of (or in addition to, I suppose) in trees: Northern Flickers. This appeared to be a male and a female because only one had any colored markings on it, a stripe of red on his back. I think that would make them Red-Shafted Flickers, but I didn’t look at my Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America until now, so I didn’t know about this variety. They were neat looking and had some real size to them; my book puts them at 13 inches long.

I just got back from a lovely, relaxing, and mostly Internet-free week at the Jersey shore. It’s built up, congested, and crazy busy there this time of year, as people from all over New Jersey and suburban Philadelphia make the trek to the beach. Even still, there are many wild things and places there. I love New Jersey and stick my tongue out at people who say it’s nothing but malls, because they’re wrong. Yesterday by the side of the road, alongside a small lake where I rode my bike, I saw a Great Blue Heron, this amazing dusky-blue 4-foor-tall animal that seems to be all legs and neck until it takes flight and you see those wings. I also had a hair-raising encounter with a snake INSIDE THE HOUSE. I’ll tell you about both of those things tomorrow because I need to get to sleep soon, but for now I’ll tell you about some of the creatures I saw on a marshlands walk on Saturday morning, before it got blistering hot.

* Looking down as I walked over the sandy path, I spotted two tiny grey speckled toads, one slightly darker color than the other. I don’t want to brag but catching toads is sort of my specialty. I don’t always grab them up though because it usually scares them. I scooped up one of these little guys in my palm for a moment, and sort of communed with the other. They were smaller than one joint of my thumb, and I have weirdly small hands. They were so lightweight that as they hopped around they would land in small tufts of grass and only slightly bend the blades and get stuck there before scrambling and hopping back out. I love those little guys.

* Spotted one duck with seven babies swimming behind her as a little human family of two parents and one bespectacled kid sat on the bird watch platform and looked on.

* Set back a distance away from the path is a large pond, surrounded by rushes, where you can often see a big white trumpeter swan or two gliding around. Today there was a ton of them; I counted 30 but there may have been a couple more skinny necks in the fray that I missed. I have rarely if ever seen this many swans together at once and sure enough our Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America says that they are usually found in pairs or family groups. Wonder what they were all doing together like that.

* Also saw a few lone and young rabbits back in the scrubby underbrush. One was so small and young and unwise to the ways of the world that he hopped toward instead of away from me.

* A family of two parents and a shy young teenage daughter pointed out a black snake about two feet long with a faint diamond pattern on its back gliding over the surface of the water.

* Here’s the best thing of all. We kept seeing beautiful butterflies that are just the same kind as ones my mom is stitching in a counted cross-stitch design. They have a bright orange bar across the top of their wings, contrasted with a patch of black above it that’s flecked with white. I think they must have known my mom was immortalizing them in stitchery because one landed on her t-shirt and we watched it open and close its wings a few times in that slow rhythmic way that reminds me of breathing. We looked at it closely and smiled, thinking the same thing: it’s the butterfly! These are Red Admiral butterflies, according to our Dorling Kindersley Butterflies and Moths identification book. It’s interesting because the picture my mom is stitching is by a British designer, and sure enough the book informs us that we have those same kind of butterflies here. Red Admirals range from southern Canada through the US down to northern Mexico and throughout Europe to North Africa and northen India. Looking at an artistic representation of something in nature is a neat way to learn about it—perhaps teaching you even more than you’d learn from seeing it in its habitat alone.

Just saw on the news that a ton of dead fish, frogs, bugs, and a few dead ducks were found in Pennypack Creek, which runs through Northeast Philadelphia. Nearby residents said they’ve smelled something toxic near the water for a couple of days. Another nasty spill, looks like.

I live in an apartment, which has its pleasures. Living in a house is nice too and different, because you have a porch. My mother has a front porch and a small back porch on her house. For many years now birds have built their nests in the eaves of these porches every spring. This year there’s a bumper crop: a long mourning dove with long tail feathers and a black marble for an eye who’s shaped like a smoking pipe when she sits on her eggs, sparrows on the other side, and purple finches out back. A pair of purple finches has made a nest on her back porch every spring for as long as my mom can remember. The mother birds have to get used to us coming and going from the house, of the shhhhh-WAP of the back door and the gunshot of the heavy front one being slammed. Once they do, and realize we mean them no harm, they’ve got a plumb spot, tucked up under our house and out of the sight of predator birds who would eat their eggs before they’re hatched. Once they do hatch it rains baby birds every time we open the door. Within a couple more weeks from now I’d say they’ll all be gone.

A few naturey things to blog about today.

First, it’s a full moon. The second full moon of the month of May, which is a phenomenon we call a “blue moon.” May’s full moon is called the Full Flower Moon. Coming up in June is the Full Strawberry Moon. It’s a draw which name is lovelier, I think.

It was blazing hot and humid here today but I had to run a few errands and since I don’t drive that meant I had to do some walking. After I hit up the library and the post office I dragged my sweaty carcass back to my apartment building. When I stepped into the courtyard what did I see but a rabbit lying in the grass on its belly with its front feet straight out in front of him and his back feet behind him. Like a housepet. He didn’t even look especially terrified to see me so near to him. Beginning last spring I starting seeing tons of rabbits near here and I occasionally saw them acting like this—totally relaxed, seeming to feel very safe. I wonder if they don’t really have many predators here. In the cool grass in the shade this one looked very sweet, and cooler than I felt.

The third thing is this. I saw my sister today, and she told me that the arboretum where she is a gardener got a phone call this morning. It was from a woman in the area who had found a tiny fuzzy baby owl on its own on her front lawn when she left her house to go to work. Why did she call an arboretum? Guess she didn’t know what else to do, and as my sister’s boss figured, she thought owls–>trees–>arboretum. Anyway, they called the
TriState Bird Rescue and Refuge who came to get him. TriState is awesome. They do a lot of good work on a small scale like with this baby owl and on a much larger scale, whenever there is an oil spill or other disaster that has injured birds or destroyed their homes. They also run an adoption program which allows you to give a little money to support either a species or a resident bird that lives at the refuge because they were unable to be released back to the wild. I have given this to my mom for Christmas for the last few years; she’s been the “proud parent” of peregrine falcons and brown pelicans in addition to me and my sister.

“There’ll be white black birds before an unwilling woman ties the knot.”

This is an old Irish saying, according to a bunch of sources I’ve read. I’m interested in language and such, so I was poking around looking for proverbs one day—I actually don’t remember why now—when I found this interesting expression.

The image of a white blackbird has stayed with me, and I’m using the phrase for a new zine project. I’m collecting interviews with women and girls who have decided to remain unmarried, asking them about themselves and their choices. So far the responses have been fascinating and surprisingly varied.

Also, to my surprise, some bushwacking through the wilds of Google revealed the fact that there are REAL white blackbirds in the world. This site called UK Safari has a picture of the albino blackbird that can be found in the British Isles.

Two nights ago, in the middle of the night, something woke me up. It was like 2:30 in the morning, and I felt vaguely itchy and sweaty as I often do this time of year, so I shifted and tossed myself around uncomfortably for a few minutes before I heard it.

An owl.

I have lived in this congested, city-ish suburban neighborhood for my whole life. I grew up just a few blocks away, in the house my mom still lives in, and now I rent an apartment in a lovely brick building that got finished being built on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, December 7, 1941, or so my landlord tells me. Living here I’ve seen raccoons, groundhogs, tons of squirrels, and many different types of birds, including hawks, bluejays, cardinals, robins, hummingbirds, wrens, sparrows, oh so many kinds including a wayward pheasant that found its way into our backyard one spring day when I was about 10. I’ve seen chipmunks and rabbits—the grounds my apartment building is on were literally hopping with rabbits last summer—and more varieties of native and non-native plants and trees than I could name, though I’m going to try to name lots of them here as this blog develops.

But I have never, ever heard an owl.

And this was a BIG one.

I sat up and crawled across my bed to the open window and pushed the curtain aside. It was a full moon, the Full Flower Moon of the beginning of May, so the houses behind my building looked bright and I could see the black of the tarmac on the driveway gleaming like a river. Quiet, quiet. I sat there and listened until I heard it again.

Hoo hoo-hoo hoo hooooooo.

It sounded liike it was coming from the tall—I’m talking 80-feet tall—trees in the back of my building, but we’re in a little bit of a gully on this block and sound echoes weirdly. I left my bedroom and padded over the hardwood speckled with debris, might be time to sweep up a little, into the living room. Trixie was out cold on her favorite arm chair, the one she and I got to keep after we moved out of mom’s house because she destroyed it by clinging to it with her claws and thrashing around like a maniac every morning after she first woke up. We called it her exercise routine.

“Trix, don’t you hear that? It’s an OWL,” I told her, giving the side of her round belly a pat. She was unimpressed.

There it went again, hoo hoo-hoo hoo hooooooo. And again just about 5 second after that. For whatever reason owls make their calls, this one really felt a sense of urgency. Except for him everything was silent in the neighborhood, all the annoying families and the oddball singletons like me sound asleep in their beds (or else at their windows, like me, listening). My apartment is situated in the corner of my building, and listening out a living room window that faces west (I think). I could tell the owl was actually over there. He had to have been perched way up high and I had no hope of seeing him from down here unless he took off and started flying.

In my mind I saw The Owl and The Pussycat, things like that, all the beautiful drawings of wise, mystical, silver-white owls from picture books I remember as a kid. I have never seen an owl in real life. I wanted to see this one so much, but it didn’t seem very likely. I went back to bed and lay there, listening to him call through the quiet night until he stopped, or flew to some far away tree, and I fell asleep.

The next morning I looked up owls in my Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America (Houghton Mifflin), which is excellent because it uses photos instead of drawings. But I only had the bird’s call, and the likelihood of his being in this part of the country, to go by. Based on these things I think the one I heard was a Great Horned Owl, who has a wingspan of 23 inches and is found throughout the United States in all seasons and all kinds of habitats. Apparently these owls are “often harassed by crows in daylight.” !

What do you guys think? Has anybody who lives in an urban area on the East Coast heard or seen a big owl like this before?