Archive for the ‘birds’ Category


June 25, 2011

We are only the second owners of the house in which we live. The people who built it put a lot of thought into some of the details, especially in the yard. Daily I’m filled with delight because of their planning!

When we moved in I remember thinking, ‘these people are really obsessed with birds!’ Now I see why! It might seem to some that I’ve become obsessed with them as well, but if so, it’s probably because I’m able to watch them and observe their behavior. Whether or not I’m obsessed, I have come to be quite fond of them.

I’ve learned that if you want to see and enjoy birds or butterflies, or whatever, you need to plant trees and flowers from which those creatures enjoy eating. The former owners did just that.

They designed a bird-haven in front of the large family room window. They built a wooden structure designed especially for hanging various bird feeders. They also planted a Serviceberry Tree in the lee of the house, a little corner off to the side of the window that is protected from the wind.

fruit of service berry tree

Fruit on the Serviceberry Tree

Over the years the tree has grown and become shelter, school and fast food stop to hundreds of birds!

Because of the former owners’ foresight, we’ve been filled with wonder and delight as we’ve discovered birds we’d never even seen before!

Over these dozen years we’ve observed male and female birds of various types:

Goldfinches, Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Purple House Finches, Grackles (not my favorite), Robins, Eurasian Doves, Mourning Doves, Orioles, Cedar Waxwings, a Sharp Shinned Hawk, and various assorted sparrows.

We’ve enjoyed seeing baby Robins hopping around the yard, chirping relentlessly for their parents to come rescue or feed them!

Since we moved in we’ve had to remove some large pines that were dying, so we landscaped, adding three Blue Spruce, a few Aspen trees and an Ash tree which provide more perches, more habitat for all these species.

A few years ago, we built a water feature in a corner alcove nestled beneath a towering River Birch and two Althea (Rose of Sharon) trees and have had the delight of watching cardinals and goldfinches and even a Red-Winged Blackbird come and drink and bathe in the water. The hotter the day, the more numerous are the fountain’s visitors. They perch on the fence, their beaks open as they seem to pant. Then nervously they glance side to side as they swoop down to take a few gulps of fresh water.

Somewhere along the line, we came across a small nesting box and hung it from a post built in the alcove next to the fountain. Last year I noticed a bird or two taking an interest, but sadly, they didn’t move in.

This spring we were elated to see a pair of Black-Capped Chickadees move in! They have hatched a little  family in our nesting box! My husband and I sit out there as often as we can watching the parents come  and go. At first they were carrying building supplies in their beaks, and then spelling each other as they  both took turns sitting on the eggs. Finally we noticed they were coming and going with greater  frequency, their beaks full of little inch worms and insects! We heard peeping and in a few days were  able to see tiny, featherless heads bobbing as they clamored for food!

Before much longer, those baby chickadees were figuring out that food came from the little round  opening above them and you could see them jostle to get closer. Now mom and dad cart in larger caterpillars and seeds and suet! They are sedulous! (dedicated and diligent)

Within about a week’s time, those little chirps had changed from single peeps to the clear “chick-a-dee” call these birds are named for! Such tiny, scrawny little featherless urchins are peeping, “chick-a-dee … chick-a-dee” like they’ve been at it all their lives! Oh wait, they have! Those little creatures have had us in awe! chick-a-dees

This amazing Chickadee family have been medicine to our sometimes weary souls. Their presence takes our minds off of all our preoccupations and we sit and listen with joy and wonder as new life has emerged right before us.

As I sat here yesterday morning, there were chirps being repeated from the Serviceberry tree in front of me. Baby sparrows were perched nervously, clumped close together, waiting for their parents to come deposit food into their open, expectant beaks. Their chest feathers were fuzzy-looking with fluffed-out feathers. One was bravely trying to preen and the others were hanging on for dear life! Their chirps were repetitive and persistent. It’s akin to our kids saying, “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom . . .” incessantly until we answer them! I can just hear daddy sparrow’s thoughts, “Alright-already! Hang on! Don’t get your feathers in a wad, I’m coming!”

Today they are back and a bit more adventurous. They sidle up to mom and wiggle, their tail feathers all aflutter, beaks ready for their treat. I’m guessing by tomorrow their mom will be telling them, “Go get it yourself!”

Our little Black-capped Chickadee parents swoop in and out, quickly grabbing seed or suet and off they go to their nest. Back and forth, back and forth, tirelessly and devoted.

A gold finch flits in and away. A male cardinal lands in the hanging box, grabs some food and takes off. (Yesterday I sat with my mouth agape, incredulous as a male cardinal sat next to a female on a limb in this same tree, feeding her! How precious!)

This activity causes me to recall some Bible verses I learned about as a young girl.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6,7

What comfort. God sees them all – not just the ones in my yard, but all the sparrows and birds of all kinds all over the planet! They are precious and important enough to him to keep his eye on and Jesus said that we are more valuable than they I don’t have to be afraid. He provides for them, he will provide for me.

I want to be as eager and expectant as these little fledglings, looking to God, my Father, to care for me, even better than these feathered friends of mine look after their little ones. After all, I’m important to him, and you are too!



April 28, 2011

the sun brightens blossoms on the Serviceberry tree

our picture window is a portal to an aviary

a host, a plethora, a spectacular group to see

our yard’s the popular place for hungry birds to be

birds on a line

September 21, 2010

It’s that time of year when the birds begin lining up on the power lines. It’s as if they are getting ready for their trip south; hanging out with friends, talking about the days to come. Kinda like old guys in small towns sitting together down at the corner coffee shop.

“Been farmin long?”

I imagine the birds chatting as they perch, “Hey, Harry, what route are you and the gang taking this year? Same as last year?”

I always enjoy seeing them perched on the lines, yet it’s with sweet melancholy, because I know that this lining up on the lines is a portent. Winter is on its way.

This morning I heard the honking of geese overhead – out of sight – but I knew what they were up to. I always hate to be left behind, especially when I’m left where it’ll be cold and snowy and those departing will be enjoying the sunny warmth while I shiver! It’s never any fun being left out of the fun! (or the sun!)

As I write, a male cardinal is feeding his youngster. The little bird is perched on a branch above our feeders. He frantically squeak-chirps; his whole body wriggles with desire while his dad drops down to the feeder-box and breaks open a few safflower seeds. Then up he goes, perching on the branch in front of his eager baby-all-a-flutter and places the food in the little guy’s beak. Such a precious sight, a father’s provision. Back and forth, chirps and flutters. Don’t they know winter’s coming?

I think to myself, it’s a little late in the game to have offspring this young, and then I remember, they don’t have a long flight ahead of them. Cardinals don’t ditch us for warmer weather like so many other birds. This makes me happy. One of the most stunningly beautiful birds stays here during the most dreary months. Beauty in the midst of long dark days. Hope embodied in a red feathered form.

I notice that as the leaves of our little Service-berry tree are beginning to change, the feathers of the goldfinches are beginning to darken. Winter is around the bend; both the trees and the birds are preparing.

I always make it through every winter, somehow, and spring always comes again, for which I’m always exuberantly grateful. So,with that knowledge, I’ll enjoy sighting the birds on the lines as they join ranks for their trip to warmer climes. I forgive them for leaving me behind! Besides, just seeing them makes me smile and brings delight to my heart. I know they’ll be back, just like Spring, and that’s good enough for me!


September 1, 2010

I haven’t sat here on my couch looking out the picture window in quite some time. Since it’s a gray, off-and-on rainy kind of day, I’m not taking every spare minute to go outside and sit in the shade by our water feature. Instead, I’m grabbing the time, while the carpet cleaner is upstairs taking care of some dog-defiled spots, to work on computer-related details so I can observe bird life once more.

Oh-my-goodness! I’d forgotten what a busy place our little feeders and tree are! In the last 10 minutes there have been 3 female cardinals and a male, several black-capped chickadees, 3 gorgeous blue jays, a hairy woodpecker, miscellaneous finches and sparrows.

How’s a person supposed to get anything done? They are breathtaking! Here comes another woodpecker – different from the one a minute ago. Not as big and her head isn’t as squared. You learn to notice these things when you observe them over time.

Maybe it’s me, or maybe it’s that I’m a female, and a nurturer kind of person, but seeing these little feathered creatures visit and feed just does something in my heart. They flutter from perch to perch, vying for a spot and peck away to loosen and grab the seeds. They eat a while and fly off in an instant. You’d better not blink or you’ll think they just disappeared into thin air. Oh, wait, that’s pretty much what they do!

Their presence at the feeders is always a reminder to me of God and his provision. If he takes care of the birds, how much more will he take care of me?  I’m serious. I’m not just quoting a trite, oft-repeated Bible verse. God is mindful of the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. He provides rain and sun and food for the creation he spoke into being, whether they know and love him or not. How much more is he aware of me and my needs; you and your needs?

I believe that God enjoys providing for us. That thought had never occurred to me until we started feeding the birds in our yard. We love putting seeds out and making sure there is an ample supply, especially when things get covered over with snow come winter. We take pleasure in being able to provide for these our little feathered friends.

There is something profound and mysterious about nurturing. I don’t want to get all weird or anything, but I remember feeding my children when they were babies, watching their eyes gaze into mine, their little fingers gripping one of my fingers tightly as they ravenously sucked as if they’d never been fed! I’d watch them drink and gulp and sometimes choke, until their furious pace slowed to one of contentment and peace. I will never forget the inexpressible joy I felt as I’d watch their faces as they ate. Oh, the hours I spent gazing at their beautiful, tender, innocent faces as I’d feed them. What a precious experience it is to be a mother.

Now that my kids are adults, meals together are less frequent.  I still experience joy when I can prepare a meal that we can savor together in an evening, discussing the day and life together, looking across the table into each others’ faces, exchanging glances and expressions and laughter.

Feeding birds is such a simple task. Eating a meal together is also a common and simple experience. Yet it is the act of feeding, of nurturing another, that can be a spiritual experience. I think it’s supposed to be.

If I enjoy feeding my family, and delight in caring for the birds, how much more does God find pleasure in feeding and providing for me as I look to him?

Sometimes our lives can be a flurry of activity, just like these birds. Seeing them stop and eat at the feeders we’ve hung brings us delight. They can’t express gratitude, they have no concept that their food is provided, yet my heart is still glad.

Probably most of humanity has no concept that God is their provider. Perhaps you haven’t given it much thought. Daily he keeps my heart beating, my lungs breathing and my mind working. I can’t do that on my own. He provides my life. He provides life and love and friends and beauty and food and so much more for me! Think about that – he provides for you too!

I know God is delighted to care for his creation. It’s his nature to nurture. I wonder how often God watches as he’s providing for me and I fail to express gratitude, yet he still provides. He doesn’t forget, he doesn’t withhold. He enjoys taking care of me. How much more he must be delighted when I remember to thank him for his provision.


May 21, 2010

Okay, I know I’ve been writing about birds an awful lot and I apologize, but I’m absolutely enthralled with the sights and sounds right in my own backyard!

I heard on the radio today that June is the best month for watching birds as they are most active during this month. Mating, building nests, laying eggs and incubating them, feeding the little critters once they’ve hatched and teaching them to fly and hunt on their own. I’m seeing it all right out my window! Not even three feet away!

On the radio it was also said that bird watching is increasing in popularity as people are feeling more and more detached from nature because of the press of urban life. They long for a connection with nature and birdwatching is easy and free!

Right now there are at least six sparrows, maybe more, perched at various places in the Service Berry tree right outside this window. They are producing quite a racket! The mom and dad are flying back and forth to the hanging feeders grabbing seeds as quickly as they can and darting back to the squeaking sparrowlets. They sit perched on a few low branches peeping loudly and as a parent approaches their noises stop but in their excitement their entire body shakes uncontrollably from side to side like a tremor. The wiggles stop just long enough for the parent bird to pop some food in their mouths and the peeping begins immediately as the parents fly back and forth delivering the best kind of carry-out!

Peep, peep, peep, peep . . . . These are devoted parents. I’ve been watching the same behaviour in the other two nests in our yard. A family of grackles is in one pine tree and robins are in the one next to it. I went out in the rain yesterday and standing under my umbrella, snapped a couple of photos of the robins in their nest. They aren’t terrifically clear, but I still like them.

baby robins in nest

robin on nest in rain

I sat watching them a bit this morning and again this afternoon. The parents rotate. While one is feeding the bobbing heads, the other is out grabbing more food as quickly as they can. As the newly supplied bird flies up to the tree, the other takes off to reload. Such activity! Such noise! Such a delight to be able to see this and marvel at God’s design of these little creatures to care for and train their young. No bird parenting classes. No manuals. It’s just in them. (I need to ask God about that. Why didn’t he program us with parenting skills? Why isn’t it just instinctual for us to raise our young? Why does it have to be so doggone difficult sometimes?!)

I’ve tried to get close enough to the window to snap a photo of the sparrows assembled in the tree waiting for dinner but every time I get near, they all fly off, even the little ones! They may not know how to get food yet, but they’ve gotten quite skilled at flying away!

This year I think I’ve seen more kinds of birds than ever before in our yard. The only bird I haven’t seen yet this year is the tiny nuthatch. I’ll keep looking. I’m sure they’ll come visit soon!

Seeing these avian parents frenetically feeding their offspring makes me smile in remembrance of the years my husband and I spent feeding, training and caring for our little ones, now grown. It’s exhausting work but very gratifying! There is something deeply satisfying seeing these birds feeding their young. There is nothing like nurturing.

It makes me think of the nurturing of God:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  (Matthew 6:26)

As I watch the birds feeding their young, I’m reminded of God’s kindness in providing food for them. I’m also reminded that if God provides for them, he will provide for me. I don’t even have to shake and peep and wiggle and squirm!

bird nerd

May 13, 2010

I’ve spent a lot of time sitting here on my couch in the family room looking out the picture window. (I’m not sure it’s really called a ‘picture window’, but that’s what my grandma, Vivian, used to call hers and my mother, Sylvia, after her. So now that’s the description I use! I think it’s appropriate though, as it frames the beauty on the other side and offers a lovely view that pleases the eye as much or more than looking at a framed piece of art.) If all the hours I’ve spent sitting or laying here over the last decade (as I endured chemotherapy and recuperated from surgeries) were totaled, I think I may have spent a couple years of my life looking out this window! Now it’s become a happy habit to slip in and take a seat to survey the back yard; to contemplate, and to watch the birds.

female and male goldfinch and male hairy woodpecker

Before my forced couch-sabbatical, I never paid much attention to birds; I had no idea the yard was such a busy place!

When I was attending college,  I lived at home several semesters to save money. I’d take a ‘short cut’ across a golf course to get to class. (I know, I know, I shouldn’t have been walking on the golf course . . . .)  Often I’d come upon a little white-haired woman with a set of binoculars at her eyes, studying something intently through those lenses. She was a remarkable sight: petite frame, glossy white hair in a starched white shirt and pair of slacks and white tennis shoes. Her name was Mrs. Pike. She was a piano teacher at the college years before, and now in her retirement, she was busy watching birds!

I’d never seen anyone looking at birds through binoculars before. I’d never known there were people who actually watched birds! I couldn’t understand why anyone would stop their activity to look at a bird! (The only birds I knew of at that time were robins, sparrows and pigeons! They were so common, I didn’t see what would warrant a closer look!)

Now I’m a few decades older, and though I’m not of retirement age, I have come to be a bird watcher myself! (Right now, there is a male Hairy Woodpecker at the feeder. The fourth so far today. A couple of females also stopped by earlier.) It’s a bit embarrassing, really. I feel like I’m a ‘bird nerd.’ This interest just crept up on me and took me by surprise!

female downy woodpecker

As I sit here looking out the picture window, straight out from where I sit is a wooden post with 4 beams angled upward at about 45 degree angles from each side of the post. (It was here when we moved in, otherwise, I might not have become a person-amazed-by-birds!) From the left beam hangs a box-feeder which we fill with safflower seeds. The doves and cardinals love it, and apparently so do the purple house finches that keep feeding in it since I filled it moments ago. The beam hanging in front of me and the one to its right hold finch feeders. These are metal cylinders about a foot long, capped with a metal angled “roof”. On each cylinder are six ovals with perches at the bottom of each just the perfect distance below a little hole from which the finches peck and eat their food. The opposite beam from me holds a metal suet feeder which is presently empty.

female and male purple house finches

On any given day, there is a pattern to the bird visits. Morning, mid-day, and late afternoon, the doves visit the square box-feeder. Both mourning doves and turtle doves come. After them, the male and female cardinal visit, coming and going, but never staying very long, while goldfinches can be seen pretty much all day long.

Today has been a very busy day for the woodpeckers. I’m wondering if all the rain has made it difficult for them to get food elsewhere. They are magnificent to see. Such powerful, agile birds. Compared to the goldfinches, who seem so light and fluttery and flittery, the woodpeckers aggressively dart in and decisively land on the feeder. They don’t hesitate a bit.

male goldfinch in service berry tree

The doves are very wary and frighten easily. The cardinals’ chirps can be heard before they land. They move in a stilted, jerky, alert kind of way. Only once I saw a blue jay swoop in. He seemed gargantuan compared to all the other birds. Wisely, they all jetted off!

In this bird world in my backyard, I’ve had a few sobering moments. For instance, the loud crashing into the window that happens occasionally. I always feel horrible when birds try to fly through it. They dazedly land in the tree or fall on the ground to recover, leaving a few feathers plastered to the window. I hate it when that happens!

Once by some unhappy coincidence, I happened to be looking out as a sharp-shinned hawk, who lives in this area, swooped in, flushing all the birds from the tree. As they frantically scattered, he grabbed one in his talons and landed in the grass about 15 feet from me. I watched in horror as he held the bird down, while it squirmed in his talons. Once the squirming stopped, he flew off with his prey gripped tightly in his feet, leaving a ring of feathers as testimony of what had occurred only a brief moment before.

I was grateful that he decided to eat his meal elsewhere.

My reputation as a bird enthusiast is spreading. A few months ago, a friend called to describe a bird to me so I could tell her what it was! That warmed my heart! More recently, another friend told me about a new application she saw that helps you identify birds by sight and by their songs! The best part? It can be loaded on my phone! Well, of course I had to check it out!

My best friend (i.e. my husband, Les) and I sat on the couch together looking it over and it took us all of 5 minutes to decide to buy it! I’ve already used it and it’s only been one day! How exciting is that?! (How nerdy can I get!)

male cardinal and goldfinch

My children are slightly amused, if not horribly embarrassed! I’m thankful they put up with my newly found hobby!

It’s just that I’m in awe of the beauty and variety and detail of so many species! I know next to nothing, yet I know enough to be amazed by the creativity of God!

What’s more amazing is, the Bible says God knows even when a sparrow falls. He, the Almighty, the Creator of universes and galaxies, notices when a sparrow dies. It may seem crazy, but that comforts me.

My grandpa Sugden’s favorite song was, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” That means that God knows the most mundane details of my life, and yours. He’s not aloof, unaware or too big and distant to notice the little things, or to notice me.

I wish I’d stopped to talk to Mrs. Pike one of those days I saw her bird-watching. I’m sure I would have learned a lot from her. She would have enjoyed telling me about some of the special birds she’d sighted. I’m certain she wasn’t embarrassed to be out there with her binoculars like I am! She, as am I, was enthralled with the glory of God expressed in his avian creation.   It’s too bad she isn’t around any more, for I’m certain she’d get a kick out of iBird!