Bird Mysteries

     I am totally in love with birds. 

     I delight in watching them glide from the magnolia tree down to the edge of our window feeder, where they pluck out a seed and swoop back to the tree with it, to break it open on a branch.  I love observing the little beings flit about, as they make their hushed rustling sounds in the trees and shrubs.  And I savor their singing.  Late in the day, when all the birds have disappeared, I think of them, and I look forward to their return in the morning.

     But there are so many things I don’t know about birds.  So much of their lives is mysterious to me. 

     For example, how do birds know when food once again appears in the feeder, after it’s been empty for the better part of a day?  A few days ago, I filled the feeder after letting it remain empty much longer than usual.  As I placed the little, seed-filled tray back into its plastic frame, I looked around to see if I could spot any birds watching me.  No, not a titmouse, chickadee, junco, or nuthatch in sight.  So, I wondered, how long will it be until the birds discover that the feeder is back in business?    

     In less than 15 minutes, I began to hear the soft thuds of little feet landing on and grabbing the feeder’s edge.  Sure enough.  When I looked out, I saw that they were back, all the usual customers taking their turns at the feeder,  just as if there had never been a break in the action.

     How did they know, I wondered, that the food was back?  Were they watching me from unseen places, as I refilled the feeder?  Did one nearby bird notice the change and somehow spread the word?  Had the birds been waiting, knowing from experience, that the feeder would indeed be refilled?  And do I, as the filler of the feeder, mean anything to the birds?  I would like to think that they view me favorably as the source of easy food.  But I see no sign that they regard me any differently than any other approaching animal who might be dangerous.

     The birds at our feeder always knock off for the day earlier than I would expect.  While it makes sense that birds would settle into their roosts early in the evening, since they are–well–early birds, I am surprised to see that the feeder is completely abandoned by 3:30 or 4 pm.  Do they not need to spend the last couple of daylight hours eating?  What do they do with their late afternoons?  Do they ‘go to bed’ even before the sun sets?

     Speaking of ‘going to bed,’ where do birds sleep anyway?  I did a little reading on this question.  While my brief research told me very little about the roosting habits of particular species that frequent our immediate area, I did learn a few general facts.  The majority of bird species, including those that are not tree dwellers, prefer to roost in trees.  Some excavate a sleeping cavity in a tree, to which they return night after night.  Many species roost in groups.  I imagine that by nestling together, the birds keep one another warm.  And perhaps there’s strength in numbers.  Many sets of eyes may increase the chances of spotting an approaching predator. 

     Another bird mystery I contemplate is junco migration. This little charcoal-grey and white cutie migrates to Virginia for the winter from its home in Canada!  Apparently, our cold, sometimes snowy winters are just the respite from Canada’s frigid winters that these fellows like.  But I don’t understand.  If they head south every winter anyway, why not keep going until they encounter a place where the winters are actually warm?  Are they interested in being less cold, but not in being actually warm?

     I wonder a lot of things about my feathered friends.  But so far, they’re not telling me the answers.–April Moore

tufted titmouse, painting by Clarence Stewart,

tufted titmouse, painting by Clarence Stewart,

black capped chickadee--AP photo

black capped chickadee--AP photo

dark eyed junco--photo by Terry Sohl

dark eyed junco--photo by Terry Sohl

white breasted nuthatch--photo by Terry Sohl

white breasted nuthatch--photo by Terry Sohl




6 Responses to “Bird Mysteries”

  1. Todd Says:

    Thanks, April. Up here on the 12th floor I don’t see birds up close very often, although we do see flocks of pigeons, and nighthawks on summer evenings. We did get out in the country over Christmas and it was a delight to walk in the snow and see the birds up close again. Be well.

  2. Nancy Says:

    I’ve sometimes wondered the same thing about filling the feeder—thanks for expressing it so well. Another, sadder, question I have is, where do birds go to die? Aside from an occasional bird struck by a car and lying in the street, I never see dead birds. Surely they don’t all survive our winter, but what happens to them?

  3. Jim Z. Says:

    Some amazing photos!

  4. Jonah Blaustein Says:

    Nighthawks? I’ve been missing them. Used to see them lots, mostly in cities, doing their acrobatic stunts way up in the air. Where’d they go? And how’d they get the name ‘nightjar’ or ‘goatsucker’ I’d like to know.

  5. April Says:

    Nancy raises a good question. Where DO birds go to die? I too rarely see a dead bird. I also wonder what is the typical lifespan of most of our common birds.

  6. Judy Says:

    April, I love your curious observations and questioning spirit. Children have these kinds of questions, and then we grow up and get busy and move on to more mundane thinking. The photos are excellent. And I love the reader’s responses. Please keep sharing your observations and thoughts.

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