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Our History in Birds

When we moved into our house, the abundant year-round residents of our yard were, as they are today, blue jays, mockingbirds and cardinals. Over the years, we've seen another 80-odd birds, some only once, others regularly or seasonally. We have witnessed bird-related happenings both cute and sad. Our yard has changed, our neighborhood has changed, even our climate has changed. And with each alteration, a few birds seem to move on, and others show up to replace them.

Early Birds

The first birds I saw were a canyon wren, a one-legged roadrunner, and some kind of nightjar, a Chuck Will's Widow, I think it must have been. I startled him out of the privet by the back door. I never saw him or the canyon wren again. The people who lived in our house before us spent little time in the backyard. They just occasionally mowed the grass. So one change that happened as soon as we arrived was that now there were people in the yard often and for long periods of time. I thought maybe the nightjar preferred a more solitary habitat. The canyon wren preferred, well, the canyon. The roadrunner didn't mind us. We saw him periodically for some time after we arrived.

Back then I saw lark buntings in the street in the winter, and a scrub jay lived across the street. He was a handsome solid slate-blue bird, without the white markings (or the big mouth) of a blue jay. He lived alone and stayed under the radar most of the time, while the blue jays mobbed and screamed.

We began developing some shrubby areas in what had been a very bare yard, and I began to see white-throated sparrows down by the back fence. Pommel Drive was a cul de sac back then, and in some of the open areas of the surrounding acres you could see a number of other good sparrows, including a fox sparrow and a song sparrow. The center of our yard was still quite open, and more than once I saw northern orioles on their way north or south. We also planted a lot of flowers. There were hummingbirds, both black-chinned and ruby-throated, from the start, but they have become legion.

Norma's Feeder

Our nextdoor neighbor Norma got a bird feeder. I used to have one when we lived on Caswell Avenue in Hyde Park. It was actually a shelf outside the bathroom window. It was nice because if you were quiet and still you could see a lot of good birds up close as they landed on the window sill.

But I saw that eventually what you got was a huge crowd of the usual suspects, including squirrels, and way too many house sparrows. The final straw was that one night I went into the bathroom and saw a big fat rat sitting on the bird feeder, stuffing his pointy face. So I don't do bird feeders anymore.

House SparowSure enough, the bird feeder next door has drawn a lot of birds, but it also has created a seemingly limitless supply of house sparrows. They sometimes crowd out and even run off other, more interesting birds. They are not even native to this continent. They are here because of another one of those ill-advised efforts to introduce a non-native bird (or insect or animal or plant) to change something that we humans are not satisfied with. These plans never work, haven't we noticed? In fact, I can't think of one that hasn't backfired. Killer bees, starlings. When will we learn.

On the other hand, Norma also got an owl house, and lo and behold, a screech owl lives there. We have screech owls and great horned owls here in abundance.



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