Category Archives: A Little Birdhouse in My Soul

A Season of KinderGrackle

Common Grackles aren’t a common bird at our feeders, so when at least one started making regular appearances around our deck, it caught my attention.

Adult Common Grackle

Since I already make a habit of watching birds out the kitchen window, I couldn’t help but lock on the unique behavior of suet-dunking from one of the Grackles. When a Grackle with a beakful of suet stopped and bent over to take a drink, I immediately assumed she was too thirsty to fly off and would ditch the suet for the water. But no! She swished the end of her beak around in the water with the suet still firmly gripped and then flew off. How curious!

This intriguing dunk n’ go performance would happen many more times. Within a few weeks it all made sense: Grackle kids.

Adult Grackle Dunking Suet in Water

I learned that just a beakful of water helps the suet go down in a most delightful way!

Even though they were the youngest of the bunch, they were by far the biggest and they seemed to inherently know it. They couldn’t have been out of the nest for too many days yet they already knew that their large size gave them the upper hand.

Juvenile Grackle Harassing Adult Mourning Dove

A youngin’ tells an adult Mourning Dove to go scram.

I’m tickled that somehow the adult Grackles knew that the Seed n’ Feed would be a fine place to park the kids for an afternoon of grazing. The adults would fly in every now and again to make sure everyone was getting enough to eat. Their appearance was met with instant gaping and wing shimmying; it was funny to see such big babies begging for food. Once the adult was gone, the kids would go back to shuffling around to pick and peck at whatever could be picked and pecked at.

At one point I had been watching one sibling chowing down on suet for quite some time before the other sibling finally noticed. I saw the fracas* coming from a mile away.

Grackle Catches Sibling Eating Suet

It’s going down for real.

I assumed there were two siblings since I would always see two at a time, but weeks into watching their regular sibling shenanigans, I looked out the window on a whim to discover that there were actually three Grackle kids. Knowing how often they have to be fed before they are on their own, and especially since they can’t swing into the local grocery store for food, I have no problem helping to make mom and dads job a little easier.

Adult Common Grackle Feeding Three Juveniles Fledglings

Why bother looking for food when mom or dad is still willing to feed you?

Many days have come and gone now with no Grackle kids, but then all of a sudden they’ll materialize, especially on hot days. I worry about them; I worry about all the little ones that come our way each year. I have some idea of how hard it must be out there.

Grackles are not exactly a delicate or ‘pretty’ bird, lumbering about on those big ol’ canoe feet, but nonetheless they’ve been so much fun to observe. Kind of like a backup mom behind the scenes, I’m glad they know they can always drop in whenever they’d like for a bite to eat.

The Fracas

Juvenile Fledgling Grackle Sibling Rivalry

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Love in the Time of Conjunctivitis

A slightly edited version of this post was originally published on 10,000 Birds.

Congratulating myself for leaving the house on time, I got into my car and drove off to meet up with a friend for lunch. Not one minute later, I noticed a small feathery mass sitting in the middle of my lane. Giving the bird a wide berth, I veered towards the other side of the road with the assumption that it would encourage her to fly off. As I drove past her, I glanced in my rearview mirror. She hadn’t budged. I felt compelled to go back and see if the bird was just being fickle or if it was something else.

As I approached on foot, I asked the little House Finch if she was OK, completely expecting her to fly off in a flurry but once again she did not. She moved her head around a bit but that was all. Once I got close enough, I reached out and grabbed her which was too easy to do. That was definitely a bad sign; it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to just walk up to and snatch a healthy adult wild bird. Upon initial inspection, I noticed that one eye was quite squinty and the other was red and completely swollen shut. I immediately assumed it was conjunctivitis and that she’d need rehabilitation.

I was going to be late for lunch.

Since I had no way to safely contain her in the car, I made the short drive back home with her clutched in one hand. Fortunately I was able to get an assist from my husband who set up a shoebox for the poor bird’s ride to the local wildlife rehabilitation facility, Fox Valley Wildlife Center, which was conveniently located just five minutes from my dining destination.

Arden Zich with sick house finch

She’s probably thinking, “So this is how it ends…” Not so, little friend!

In less than 24 hours of receiving medication, the eye that had been swollen shut had calmed down and opened enough for her to see again. Laura Kirk, the wildlife center’s director, said that the bird couldn’t inhale her seeds fast enough once she was set up in her own private quarters. The difficulty she had seeing me come at her must have meant that she’d had a hard time finding food as well.

sick female finch 24 hrs after medication conjunctivitis

The next day.

Not long after her arrival, a male House Finch was admitted with the same malady. Together they stayed in the bird infirmary for a few weeks while being treated with medicated eye drops and an antibiotic in their drinking water. I like to think they comforted each other and passed the time from their respective cages by swapping stories about themselves, how they endured being caught by big scary humans, and their plans for the future.

Once their treatments were complete, they were transferred to a soft release outdoor cage for observation and to readjust to the weather. With no netting between them, the pair was free to frolic about as they pleased until they were cleared for release. When that time came, the couple was chauffeured to the general area where the female finch was found.

male female house finch ready for release

The finch couple anxiously await their release.

Opening the carrier door was a bit uneventful and neither bird chose to leave immediately; they wanted to make sure the coast was clear before leaving their protective confines. Once one finch finally took flight, the other immediately sprang forth in the same direction. Together they flew to a nearby tree to take in the sights and sounds of their new surroundings, hopefully to make good on their plans for the future.

released recovered male female house finches

We ride together, we fly together.

Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis is a highly-contagious disease that primarily affects House Finches but can affect other birds such as Purple Finch and American Goldfinch. Birds can recover from the disease if they don’t first succumb to predation or starvation from the inability to see, which was undoubtedly imminent for “my” House Finch.

It is highly recommended that those who enjoy feeding birds ensure that feeders are spaced far enough apart to avoid crowding, clean feeders on a regular basis, and provide only enough seed for about one to two days. Feeders should be immediately removed and sanitized (10% bleach solution) and feeding area cleaned if sick birds have been observed in that area.

For more information and tips on how to help decrease spread of disease:

I Got a Fever and the Only Prescription is…More Bird Songs!

How do you pass the miles when you have lots of time to occupy your mind? Do you listen to the radio? Ipod? Audio books? Contemplate life? Enjoy the silence (if you can)?

When Joel and I go on little road trips we are apt to challenge each other on our music trivia. General topics are selected such as songs about a location or that reference the weather. We’ll volley back and forth until we have a gloater winner. Much to my surprise and delight, Joel recently picked songs that reference birds or flight.

Besides singing about other people, does the music world croon about any other living creature as much as it does birds?

Bird Song Word Cloud

Given our ages and musical preferences, many songs that reference birds and flight certainly won’t be represented, however, here is our collective list:

BIRDS
In alphabetical order by song title

As I Lay Me Down – Sophie B. Hawkins
“It felt like spring time on this February morning. In a courtyard birds were singing your praise.”

Beds Are Burning – Midnight Oil
“Four wheels scare the cockatoos from Kintore East to Yuendemu.”

Birdhouse In Your Soul – They Might Be Giants
“Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch who watches over you. Make a little birdhouse in your soul.”

Black Crows – Honeyhoney
“Black Crows on the blue sky always making a mess. And I wake in the morning tangled up in their nest.”

Blackbird – The Beatles
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night. Take these broken wings and learn to fly.”

Blue Jay Way – The Beatles
“Soon will be the breath of day sitting here in Blue Jay Way.”

Chorus – Erasure
“And they covered up the sun until the birds had flown away.”

(They Long to Be) Close to You – The Carpenters
“Why do birds suddenly appear? Every time you are near?”

Edge Of Seventeen – Stevie Nicks
“Just like the white winged dove, sings a song sounds like she’s singing…”
Personally, I detest any kind of cooing so I always have a hard time with this one.

Fly Like an Eagle – Steve Miller Band
“I want to fly like an eagle to the sea. Fly like an eagle let my spirit carry me.”

Fly Robin Fly – Silver Convention
“Fly, robin fly. Fly, robin fly. Fly, robin fly. Up, up to the sky”
Lather, rinse, repeat. These are THE ONLY lyrics to the song! You don’t want to miss this gem from 1976. I may add this choreographed dance routine to my exercise repertoire.

Hot In Herre – Nelly
“Check it, got it locked at the top of the Four Seasons. Penthouse, roof top, birds I feedin.”

I’m Like a Bird – Natalie Furtado
“I’m like a bird I’ll only fly away.”

Little Bird – Annie Lennox
“I look up to the little bird that glides across the sky. He sings the clearest melody. It makes me want to cry.”
One of my favorites. Unfortunately no birds make an appearance in this video.

One For The Mockingbird – Cutting Crew
“But the sweetest song of all the mockingbirds couldn’t hope to match one note of any song we played.”

Over the Rainbow – Judy Gardland
“Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh, why can’t I?”

Remedy – Black Crows
“Baby, baby why can’t you sit still? Who killed that bird out on you window sill?”
Boo…

Rockin’ Robin – Bobbie Day
“All the little birds on Jay Bird Street love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet.”
Nine different birds are mentioned in this song. Is there any other song that is birdier than this?

Scar Tissue – Red Hot Chili Peppers
“With the birds I’ll share this lonely view.”
I always thought the words were “Scott Tissue”. “Scott Tissue that I wish you saw…” and thought it was so odd (but quite a coup for the Scott®  folks) that a band like Red Hot Chili Peppers would reference toilet paper in a song.

Sign Your Name – Terence Trent D’Arby
“Birds never look into the sun before the day is done.”

St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion) – John Parr
“I can see the new horizon underneath the blazin’ sky. I’ll be where the eagle’s flying higher and higher.”

Sparrow – Simon & Garfunkel
“Who will love a little Sparrow and who will speak a kindly word? ‘Not I,’ said the Swan, ‘The entire idea is utterly absurd, I’d be laughed at and scorned if the other Swans heard.’ ”

Suga Suga – Baby Bash
“So fly like a dove so fly like a raven. Quick to politic with some fly conversation.”

Take a Chance On Me – ABBA
“If you’re all alone when the pretty birds have flown…honey I’m still free, take a chance on me.”

The Night Owls – Little River Band
“He’s gonna win her every time. He knows he will, he’s dressed to kill he’s a night owl.”

Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
“Three little birds each by my doorstep. Singin’ sweet songs of melodies pure and true.”

When Doves Cry – Prince
“Why do we scream at each other? This is what it sounds like when doves cry.”
No, actually it still sounds like cooing. You can hear the agitation in the coo but it’s still a coo.

Wings of a Dove – Ferlin Husky
“On the wings of a snow-white dove He sends His pure sweet love. A sign from above on the wings of a dove.”

Songs about bird flight word cloud

FLIGHT
We’re assuming the use of flight is in reference to or similar to a bird’s flight and not insects, bats, angels, or airplanes.

In alphabetical order by song title

Amazing – Aerosmith
“That one last shot’s a Permanent Vacation. And how high can you fly with broken wings?”

Breakaway – Kelly Clarkson
“I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly. I’ll do what it takes til’ I touch the sky.”

Broken Wings – Mr. Mister
“Take these broken wings and learn to fly again, learn to live so free.”
A falcon with intact wings makes a few brief appearances in this video.

Don’t Fear the Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
“We’ll be able to fly (Don’t fear the reaper)”
You get bonus points if you knew that this SNL skit this was the inspiration for the title of this post!

Theme From The Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not) – Mike Post
“Flying away on a wing and a prayer, who could it be? Believe it or not it’s just me.”

I Believe I Can Fly – R. Kelly
“I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. I think about it every night and day, spread my wings and fly away.”
When you want to instill confidence in yourself, spreading your wings and flying away does seem sexier and more inspiring than, say, lacing up your gym shoes and sprinting away. 

Never Tear Us Apart – INXS
“I told you that we could fly ‘cause we all have wings…but some of us don’t know why.”

On the Wings of Love – Jeffrey Osborne
“On the wings of love up and above the clouds the only way to fly…is on the wings of love.”

Time For Me To Fly – REO Speedwagon
“Time for me to fly…oh, I’ve got to set myself free. Time for me to fly…and that’s just how it’s got to be.”

Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
“I can fly higher than an eagle, ’cause you are the wind beneath my wings.”

Like the bird song word clouds? Check out Tagxedo for a word cloud generator with lots of fun options.

Rhapsody in Bluebird

My very productive afternoon of house cleaning came to a screeching halt when I happened upon this:

blue birds

We get Eastern Bluebirds from time to time zipping across the yard but it’s not common at all to witness them just hanging out on the deck.

Clean or watch pretty birds?
Clean or watch pretty birds?
Let me take half a second to think about that.

Seizing the opportunity and grateful to have the time to stop and watch, I perched in front of the window and savored the gift of having a front row seat to the bluebird show.

bluebirds oct 2014 1

For well over a half hour, I watched them watch the world, huddle up with one another, sample the suet, preen, cough up little berries (that was odd), and bathe for what appeared to be the first time for some.

bluebirds oct 2014 6

That might be mom and dad supervising the festivities. Most of the birds still had little speckles on their chest and a few baby feathers.

Is it the blue that makes them so dazzling? I could not look away.

bluebirds oct 2014 9

At one point there were eight bluebirds frolicking about. They didn’t have the foggiest idea that I lurked just a few feet away, completely captivated and delighted by their presence.

bluebirds oct 2014 4

bluebirds oct 2014 8

bluebirds oct 2014 5

I stayed fixed on my little blue buddies until one by one, they were gone.

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” – Vincent van Gogh

Help Birds Have a Brighter Future

September 1st marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon. The Passenger Pigeon was one of the most abundant birds in the world during the 19th century until they went extinct in 1914.

Billions to none… the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon

 “The extinction of the Passenger Pigeon had two major causes: commercial exploitation of pigeon meat on a massive scale and loss of habitat.”

Now, a report recently released from the National Audubon Society says that climate change is threatening 314 bird species with possible extinction.

The State of the Birds Report 2014

The birds don’t get a say in how our actions and decisions affect them. We know better and we can do better. I’ve read only a fraction about some of the long- and short-term consequences of the loss of a species; it is a large part of what motivates me to give my undivided attention and best possible care to whatever winged creatures come through the doors at the wildlife rehabilitation center.

state of birds 2014 birds in rehabiliation

 Feathered friends at the wildlife rehabilitation center.

The Top 5 Reasons I Give a Hoot

  1. They are pretty, intriguing, quirky, and fun to watch. Emphasis on the pretty!
  2. They give us clues about the health of the environment.
  3. Slurping up mosquitoes and other pesky pests – insectivorous birds rock!
  4. They spread seeds and pollen which helps other environmental goodies grow.
  5. They help naturally control disease and rodent populations.

Learn how you can take action right now:  Read it.   Watch it.

humming bird mug and humming bird 2

 Because, I mean, come on.

By the way, that IS delicious bird-friendly coffee in that mug!

Birdie Went a-Courtin’

Love; Exciting and New

I was typing away at my computer when some unusually boisterous tweeting outside the office window grabbed my attention. There on the deck was a male house finch energetically bowing, curtsying, flashing some tail, and singing up a storm while a lady perched opposite him looked on. Because I had a mouthful of tea, I lightly whacked Joel on the side and pointed out the window so that he’d have a look.

“What?”

(Gulp) “He’s courting her! That’s soooooo sweet. Look at him go! Why don’t you curtsy and sing like that when I enter a room?” I asked.

My male just chuckled. Noted.

House Finch 3 is a Crowd

 Uh, I’m trying to work here pal. 

The passionate suitor then fluttered up in the air a few inches away from her, teasing her into a game of chase.

Will You Accept this Seed?

I’ve also been watching a cardinal couple for several days now. It’s touching to observe just how much this male cares for his lady. Always a gentleman and protector, he lets her have prime seating at the feeder while he hops around to nibble on what remains scattered on the floor.

Cardinal Couple Feeding

Even after she has eaten, he passes along a cracked sunflower seed as a gesture of sire suitability .

Cardinal Couple Courtship Male Feeding Female

Sure, she can crack her own shells but it’s nice to have someone else do it from time to time, no? 

Notable Courtship Displays

Superb Bird-of-Paradise – I was the unimpressed recipient of a very similar dance given by a strange gent at a nightclub many moons ago. Just like the female in this video, I too fluttered away.

Flamingos – They move as a group like a beautifully choreographed ballet. Or a music video from the 80’s where everyone you meet while dancing down the street jumps in to join you, somehow magically knowing all the moves.

Greater Sage-Grouse – Some guys are less about the pomp and ballyhoo and more about making sure that you get a good eyeful of the size of their air sacs.

Green Thorntail Hummingbird – Considering how quickly hummingbirds deplete their energy, the length of this fella’s aerial dance is impressive. I bet he’s wondering how much longer it is going to take her to make up her mind.

African Weaver Bird – In my opinion, this guy wins the courting game hands down! He builds a HOUSE for his prospective lady! The other fellows can go take their flashy hips elsewhere.

Finch Courtship Get a Nest

For the Love of Birds or an Excuse for a Nap?

Feeling energized to get a jump on yard work, I set out before lunch to do some raking around our plantings under the deck. Seconds out the door, I heard a flurry of fluttering. My eyes immediately followed the fluttery mass towards the top of the closest tree. While the birds silently looked on, I scoped the area to see what the fuss was all about. I’m confident that it was all about this:

New Bird Nest Under Deck

Under Construction

 That little ledge isn’t exactly well hidden from (my) prying eyes but it does seem inconvenient for things with talons or grabby paws. Considering that it is only about three second’s flying time from the feeders on the deck, I can understand why they picked this spot.

I wanted to check yard work off my to-do list but I also didn’t want to discourage the builders from coming back, so I made quick work of cleanup from around just a few shrubs. While I tidied up, I found a bunch of feathers buried under leaves that I set aside in a small pile close to the nest. Literally, an early house warming gift:

feathers in the yard

I hope our guests will be pleased with this assortment. 

Since it’s the birds’ world and I’m just living in it, I wrapped up my task much sooner than planned. As far as I’m concerned, any wild birds that survived The Winter of 2013-2014 get to do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it.

And so just like the birds, it only took seconds for me to decide that I should flutter back to bed for a leisurely read and an afternoon nap.

 

UPDATE:

This photo taken on May 8th is the final result after several teardowns. They appear to come and go from a side entry; all the branches are bunched up to the top of the “roof.” I also think there is a bit of slit somewhere in there which acts as their window.  I try to sneak peeks to figure out just how they are getting in and out but they are lightning fast.

Bird: 1 Human: 0

final nest build under deck 2014

 

June 10th: We are officially now on fledgling crossing alert.

baby sighting in nest under deck June 2014