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Going to the birds

Sometime during Feb. 16-19, I’m going to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. This is a simple activity and doesn’t take much time. You count birds, and you enter your counts online. The results are used to guesstimate the well being of various types of birds and how general patterns of bird populations vary from year to year. It’s not entirely scientific, but it gives ornithologists some useful data.

We have several feeders and suet holders in our back yard, and we’ve attracted a good variety of birds. Woodpeckers: hairy, downy, red-bellied, and red-headed. Cardinals, goldfinches, purple finches, house finches, pine siskins, blue jays, Carolina chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice, rufous-sided towhees, and even one beautiful hawk who strolled across the deck, looking for dinner. He was either a Cooper’s hawk or a sharp-shinned. He flew away too soon, before I could nail down the slight differences.

We also see lots of sparrows, including house sparrows. My husband loathes house sparrows because they sometimes kill baby bluebirds and take over the bluebird houses. We also have other sparrows, but I can’t tell what kind they are. They’re all LBJs to me. Little Brown Jobs.

Since I decided to do the G.B.B.C., I’ve been paying more attention to the birds, trying to nail down some of the more confusing varieties so my data will be more accurate. Sometimes, a tiny “field mark” like an eyestripe or a wingbar is a clue. But the little buggers often fly away before I’ve had a chance to really look at them. I’m learning to look fast and hard then remember the details as I frantically flip through the pages of the bird book. It’s good training in paying close attention.

And it makes me wonder about a few things. For instance, why don’t pigeons have more consistent coloring? With rare exceptions, a chickadee will always look like the next chickadee, but pigeons show a wide variety of coloration. Why did God design them that way? Does anybody have a theory? And is anybody else going to try the G.B.B.C.? It would be fun to compare notes.

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