Tuesday, March 22, 2011


The Chickadee is practically perfect in every way.  Its appearance is tailored--conservative in black, white, and shades of gray.  Good manners accompany them to the feeders they love to visit --kind of like we humans take turns at an ATM machine and don’t like to have others stand too close, so the Chickadee flits up to a feeder, takes a seed , then flits back to peel and eat it in the lilac bush.  The next Chickadee repeats this action and so it goes. 

Chickadees are friendly and reports of their eating out of human hands and lighting on human shoulders are numerous.  Chickadees do not migrate and their constant presence and consistent appearance make them easy to identify.

But just in case you do not recognize a Chickadee immediately, it tells you its name.  While many of the mnemonics for remembering bird calls do not work for me,  the words chick-a-dee-dee-dee  sound exactly like what the bird is saying. 

In the spring, the Chickadee has another sound.  Around the time the sap runs in the maple trees, he  begins to sing fee-bee--a  clear two-note whistle.   He is not impersonating another bird--this is the chickadee’s “song”.  So what is the difference between a bird song and a bird call?   Bird songs are usually melodic, complex, and the domain of male birds only. They are associated with mating and all that entails,  Bird songs are usually heard only in the spring.  Bird calls are heard throughout the year, are not as melodic and are used by males and females alike.  Calls are used for warnings, location, flocking, or to announce a food source.  Although the Chickadee is known as one of the lesser musicians in the bird world, human spirits are lifted by all who hear his simple spring song. 

Birdwords by Linda Lunna ©  2011


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Return of the Red-wings

Watercolor   Red-winged Blackbird  © 2011  Sally Wickham

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March is a fickle month.  Many days are below freezing and storms can dump several feet of snow.  Other days the sun begins to radiate heat as well as light;  skunks arouse and their odor lays like  a heavy fog;  maple trees relax and their sap begins to flow. Snow Buntings leave for the arctic tundra and an army of  male  Red-winged Blackbirds fly in ready to do battle for a prime piece of real estate.

The male redwings, aka “little generals,” have a military appearance.  Their uniform is jet black with scarlet epaulets underlined with a pale yellow stripe. They like to flock together in a unit;  all at the feeder;  all singing in a chorus in the tree;  all gliding around officially announcing that spring has arrived--or almost.  Their battle ground lies under a deep covering of snow but now they are mingling with  an occasional skirmish.  The real war begins when the females arrive in a month or so. But they will not be fighting for love.  It’s all about territory.  After the battle,  the female redwings decide where it is they would like to live. It’s a question of where, not who.

Yesterday I  watched a group of nine or ten  male  redwings eating off the ground under the feeder.  They scuttled around looking for seeds.  Most of the males had their red epaulets hidden with only the yellow showing.  One strutted around showing off his colors and spreading out his wings like a cape.  He frightened   one small group away and then threatened another.   They  also fled.  Within seconds, he flew to join them.  I guess that it’s  not fun to spar without any partners.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cardinalis Cardinalis

Watercolor  Cardinal  © 2011  Sally Wickham

     I have lived on Music Mountain in central Vermont for almost forty years. Never in all those years did I see a cardinal here in my neck of the woods.  I  remember Peg Brainard saying that if she ever saw a cardinal at her bird feeder in nearby Liliesville, I would be able to hear her yell with joy all the way to our house and that’s about five miles.  Cardinals have been expanding their range while I have been hoping.  Anyway, one day late last year (2010)  I looked out my kitchen window and there on the ground beneath the feeder was a cardinal.

     He was a rather skinny cardinal and while one of my bird books says that cardinals are the first at the feeder in the morning, this one was always the last in the evening. That’s my kind of cardinal--not being up in the morning with all the rest of the birds, but skinny meant that I needed to take action. I have always been a lackadaisical bird feeder. It is so much easier feeding the birds in the summer but now I had a purpose--to keep this cardinal alive and visiting my feeder all winter and hopefully finding a mate and raising a family next spring. Hallelujah!   I must remember to call Peg and tell her about my visitor.
     Over the next few days, the cardinal disappeared. I worried that perhaps he had just been passing through. But after this first disappearance, he returned and has been a regular guest at the bird diner all winter long. I noticed that he never ate the seeds from the Droll Yankee hanging feeder--the one adored by the chickadees. This guy was always on the ground picking up the seeds that fell from above. Naturally I started sprinkling extra on the ground just for him.
     Before I called Peg to inform her of this good news, her obituary appeared in the local paper. I believe that she died on the day the cardinal appeared in my yard and whenever I see one, I will be reminded of a wonderful lady who also loved birds.

Birdwords by Linda Lunna ©  2011

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Two Tom Turkeys

Watercolor  Two Tom Turkeys  ©2011  Sally Wickham
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Balmy 45-50° temperatures finally put an end to a two month deep freeze. This morning it is foggy and raining. There is a birdfeeder not far from my kitchen window. Two tom turkeys are scratching through layers of soggy snow for sunflower seeds buried after many winter storms. Meteorologists say it was the snowiest February on record!

It is a weird sight to see these two Jurassic appearing creatures on an archaeological dig but the treasures they are finding seem to satisfy. Every time I glance out the window they are still there giving me a good opportunity to watch them.

This pair of turkeys are very wet and every once in a while they give themselves a good shake. Their bodies are as dark brown as a coffee bean. Their wings are barred--it’s the wing feathers that are easy to spot on the ground when they are shed. Wild turkeys are very alert and they have bright intelligent looking eyes. Their head is featherless, tiny and cannot in any way be described as pretty. Their legs are golden colored. I know that these are male turkeys because of a needlelike protrusion on their chest. This pointy bunch of feathers is called a beard.

The turkeys spend a couple of hours scavenging seeds under the feeder and do not leave until my brother-in-law arrives in his Gator. But I bet they’ll be back!