Birds of a Feather

Do they really flock together, those migratory birds of a feather? I suppose that depends upon the particular feather, doesn’t it?

The little winter birds do. I find them flitting about our hanging wooden feeder my husband built in the shape of a gazebo. They don’t take turns, but they don’t fight each other, either. Some peck among seeds spilt below, rather furiously, it seems to me. All these little birds are chickadees and juncos, buntings and finches come down from the mountains of when the weather turns to winter. They are small enough to hold in your cupped hands. If they spy me spying on them from my library windows, however, they fly away.

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The occasional pair of California quail that visit keep to the lawn. They are ground feeders, of course, like my white ring-necked doves. Often, both species fly up to the roof line to peer over the edge, like spectators high in the bleaches following sports events below. A magpie, however, is a jealous creature. All that he surveys from rooftops is his own domain. The other birds had better get out of the way — and quickly — or risk a sharp peck on the head.

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About ten years ago, I agreed to participate in the local Audubon’s annual Great Backyard Bird Count in our adjoining neighborhood backyards. We “over the garden gate” friends had been developing a bird sanctuary to meet habitat guidelines. Prominent in our yards are trees and shrubbery that produce berries in fall and winter — dogwood and elderberry, flowering cherry and yew hedges. Other deciduous trees include birches, a large maple and a saucer magnolia. An occasional pine and spruce provide heavy shelter in snowy conditions. Perennials are allowed to go to seed. Additionally, we keep hanging feeders filled with wild bird seed. Of course, a water source is mandatory as much in dry winter air as in hot summer weather.

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That day I counted a dozen different migratory species in my garden alone:

  1. Bunting — brown/grey
  2. Bushtit — tiny; grey/brown
  3. Chickadee — Mexican;  grey breast
  4. Chickadee — Mountain; light grey breast
  5. Finch — Cassin’s; grey-brown streaks; reddish head
  6. Finch — House; similar to Cassin’s but drabber
  7. Junco — Oregon; black hood
  8. Magpie — highly unusual appearance in January; this pair may have gotten lost
  9. Nuthatch — white-breasted; discovered in my pine tree
  10. Pine Siskin — looks like a goldfinch but with brown markings on plumage
  11. Pitpit — bold streaks; red throat
  12. Quail — California; larger than the Eastern woodland quail

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That spring, ten years ago, a Cooper’s hawk began to swoop through our backyard gardens. When he wasn’t attacking small birds and robbing feeders, he nested in my Colorado spruce, surveying the landscape. In my native South, we called these medium-size birds of prey chicken hawks or hen hawks because they attacked poultry that failed to make it to safety inside the hen coop. These hawks have been known to attack small animals, too, such as domestic cats.

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Last week, I wrote about the starlings that swept through my north lane of ornamental cherry trees loaded with red berries for our little migratory birds. Horrid creatures! Not a berry was left when they swooped away with a “brzz” ringing in the air.

Grackles and blackbirds are usually not a long-term problem overtaking feeders, as they tend to visit for a short window of time and then move on. Photo by Bob Vuxinic via Birdshare.

For further reading, check out online or your book store for titles such as the following suggestions:

The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd EditionPeterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 6th Edition (Peterson Field Guides)Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America


Just short of fifty years of holy matrimony, I am blessed to be a mother of two and grandmother of seven. Much of my writing speaks to the culture and tradition of the Deep South, where I spent the first thirty-five years of my life before relocating to the Pacific Northwest. As a poet and essayist, I’ve published both online and in print media. In mid-February 2019, I launched Roses in the Rain: A Daughter's Story, following a successful couple years of Invitation to the Garden, both on Watch for upcoming installments to the memoir blog every Tuesday. The garden posts follow on Friday/Saturday. I look forward to hearing from you all!

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