After some pretty wonky winter weather—freeze, rain, snow, melt, sun, rain, snow, freeze, melt—things have settled into a more normal pattern: It’s cold out. Whether there is white stuff covering the ground or not, it’s just damn cold. Which reminds me to fill the bird feeders and keep them full, even if I notice them being ransacked by thieving squirrels. Everybody’s got to eat to keep their body temperature up, I guess. I usually do wait until the local bears have gone into hibernation before starting to feed the birds. Bears, like those bushy-tailed tree rats, love bird seed. Who knew? But I think by now it’s safe to assume they are all snoozing in their dens.
I walked outside the other day to see a gorgeous red-tailed hawk swoop low across the driveway and land in the neighbor’s trees. Anyway, I think it was a hawk. Half-hidden in the bare branches, its head was all fluffed up in its shoulder feathers—do hawks have shoulders? I was hoping to discover ears on it, which would have made it an owl instead. I watched patiently until it took off across the yard and into the forest.
“Come back and let me get a good look at you,” I said to myself. It made a turn and glided around in a big circle above me, proudly displaying its not-very-red tail before disappearing in the sky above the woods. I want to think it heard me. I want to think of myself as being so in touch with nature that I can communicate with wild creatures. It was probably just scanning the ground for something to eat. Oh well. I was thrilled.
I love watching the birds, and I love actually recognizing what I see. Bird identification is not easy. For one thing, they don’t hold still long enough for an amateur birder to consult her Stokes Field Guide to Birds of the Eastern Region. For another, my distance vision is not great, and adjusting a pair of binoculars while scoping the sky is tricky, especially if you need to take your glasses off or put them on, depending on the magnification of your equipment. Again, by then the bird in question might have disappeared from sight.
The clue to even getting close to birds is—you guessed—those bird feeders. Hang one outside a window and just wait to see who shows up. You can buy all-purpose birdseed that appeals to a broad population of hungry flappers, or you can go for a special blend that attracts a particular species. Then sit back and witness—cardinals, woodpeckers, blue jays, bluebirds, chickadees, wrens. Keep your guide handy so you can find out who that stranger is waiting for its turn on a nearby tree branch. Take pictures and post them on Facebook to impress your friends.
And don’t forget to remove the feeder and put it away before the bears wake up in spring.