Sunday, May 01, 2011

Boutique Birds

A pair of cowbirds visited our feeders the other day. This is apparently not a good thing unless you happen to be a cowbird fan, which, after reading about them, we are not. Cowbirds are what are called "brood parasites".
"The Brown-headed Cowbird does not build a nest of its own. The female lays her eggs in the nests of other bird species. The host parents then raise the cowbird chick as their own. The cowbird's egg usually hatches a day or two before the host's eggs. Rapid growth allows the cowbird chick to out compete the host's chicks for food and space in the nest. The result is that the host's chicks usually perish." (

But Mars and I are not worried, even though (based upon forty years of experience) several species of potential cowbird victims will be building their homes and raising their broods on or near our property this year. We know with certainty, again based upon the same history, that the cowbird walk-on was just that -- a one-shot cameo appearance by a boutique bird, to be followed by its total disappearance from our front yard stage. It has happened before, and for sure it will happen again.

One of the first was a Baltimore oriole that appeared at our quince bush several years ago at about this time of year. The orange-pink flowers had just blossomed and the fruit was not yet visible to the human eye. The shrub is just outside our dining room window, in which room we were actually dining -- it being during our pre-empty-nester days. For a moment we thought that the quince itself was gyrating wildly, kind of thrashing about, until we noticed the predominately black and white feathering at the heart of the of the flurry of orange.

The bird stayed at our yard for a few days -- visiting the shrub one or twice per. He never seemed to land any other place on our premises. Finally, I guess because the fruit was not ripening quickly enough for his tastes, he flew off -- presumably further south where the maturing process for that season was farther along.

Then there was a hummingbird or at least that's what I think it was -- either that or a primitive, pygmy, predator drone operated by one of the more scientifically advanced kids in the neighborhood.

It was a warm summer day and I was doing some yard work next to our butterfly garden - which is supposed to attract those small nectar-feeding tropical American birds as well. I was standing at the time and I heard a serious buzzing sound to my left at about elbow height. I looked quickly and just as quickly a tiny green object with blurry things moving on either side of it hovered -- darted left -- hovered -- darted right -- and departed. I looked at its front end -- or at least the end that went first -- and saw either a hideously grotesque bug-face or a long, curved bill. I had no other witnesses

My first thought was an insect. My second was a hummingbird. Over time I've settled on the latter. It makes me feel as if my efforts on that garden were not entirely wasted.

The white crow arrived on a cold early winter morning when murders of the migrating magpies were moving en masse from yard to yard in our neighborhood. Mars was watching the cascade of black feathers nosily descend on our yard when she excitedly spotted a flash of white bobbing in the ocean of ebon. She called me over to look. It was -- according to all the outward signs other than color -- a crow. Before we could think too much about what we were witnessing, the horde ascended and moved on. Later research told us that such pigment-free freaks do occur in the corvine species - but very rarely.

All of this is a good thing. Connecticut, where Mars and I live, is known as the "Land of Steady Habits". We Nutmeggers like novelty and excitement as much as the next guy -- but within reason.

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