Bird Roll Call: March 28, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Blue jay
  • Brown creeper
  • Common grackle
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • White-throated sparrow

Today, I saw a European starling who only had the use of one leg. The bird was able to eat pieces of suet that had fallen to the ground and to perch on the birdbath.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: March 23, 2018

  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Blue jay1
  • Black-capped chickadee (heard)1
  • Common grackle1
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • European starling1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1
  • White-throated sparrow1

I had to take one of the suet feeders down because the starlings were mobbing it. As soon as it was gone, the downy woodpeckers started spending more time at the nearby upside-down suet feeder. I didn’t realize how much the starlings’ presence was bothering them. The blue jays have no use for my peanut feeder now that it’s warmed up and there’s other food available. They fly away now when I come out to fill it. I miss seeing four of five of them flying to the feeder at once.

Tonight, my lawn was littered with juncos, white-throated sparrows, and mourning doves. Cardinals, finches, and sparrows crowded the feeders. I never feel alone when birds are near.

Locations — in my backyard and while driving across town.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: February 20, 2018

  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Black-capped chickadee1
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose (overhead)1,2
  • Cooper’s / sharp-shinned hawk2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • European starling1
  • Great blue heron2
  • Gull sp. (overhead)1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker (heard)1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (male and female)1
  • White-throated sparrow1

It was cold and sleeting. Winter weather, through and through. A European starling bathed in the birdbath. A squirrel slept on a branch with his tail wrapped over his head like a turned-up collar. The dark-eyed juncos’ tails were frozen in all manner of configurations: open fans, half-open fans, broken fans. The Carolina wren flew over to visit with me as I was filling the wreath feeder with peanuts.

Later, my partner and I went for a walk at a local creek and came upon a heronry. It was an exciting discovery.

Locations — in my backyard and at a local creek.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at a local creek

Bird Roll Call: February 17, 2018

  • American crow3
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose (overhead)3
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • European starling1
  • Great horned owl (heard)1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker (male and female)1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (male and female)1
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3
  • White-throated sparrow1

Sleet covered the ground. It was dark and thirty-five degrees. In the distance, the birds were shadows moving among branches. A dozen European starlings flew to the east, blotting the sky. Blue jays followed. American goldfinches scattered like flecks of gold tossed from someone’s hand. A drenched squirrel sifted through wet sunflower seeds littering the ground. A house finch, a dark-eyed junco, and a white-throated sparrow sat in the lilac at the back of the property as if its bare branches could provide protection from the rain.

Birds funneled back slowly, starting with the juncos. Six white-throated sparrows scratched at the cold soil. A northern flicker and downy woodpecker landed in one of the sweetgum trees at the same time. A house finch sang from his perch on the sunflower seed feeder. The sky grew lighter.

Locations — in my backyard, at Meadowbrook Park, and while driving.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Meadowbrook Park
3. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: February 16, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Pine siskin
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • White-throated sparrow

European starlings studded the lawn. Two northern flickers stood on a neighbor’s roof. The male and female red-bellied woodpeckers visited the yard separately. I saw my favorite chipmunk for the first time since it went into hibernation last fall.

Location — in my backyard.

Twitter: A World of Wounds

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise. ― Aldo Leopold

I enjoy feeding the birds.

A murmuration of starlings buzzed the cars on I-35 today.

The female northern flicker appears to have selected one of two suitors. The rejected male spent the day looking for the female. He sat in my yard calling for her. “Kyeer, kyeer. Kyeer, kyeer.”

The red-tailed hawk returned to the yard this afternoon. I have a crush.

These birds are my commitment remaining in the present.

I heard a blue jay cheep like a small songbird at the red-tailed hawk today. I’ve never seen that approach before, and I have no idea what informed the behavior.

I just played Vivaldi on my flute for the house finches.

Many people have an idea of what a bird is, but because they don’t pay close attention to birds, they don’t know what an actual bird is.

If you don’t pay close attention to birds, don’t write about them. Certainly don’t snare them in your nondescript haiku. Real birds deserve better than what you have to say about them.

I like men who walk their dogs in the woods.

Two paths trisect the snow-mantled yard: one to the birdbath, another to the bird feeders.

Juxtaposition: a brown creeper on the sweetgum, a bald eagle in the sky.

When I grow up, I want to spend all my time with birds.

Bird Roll Call: January 25, 2018

  • American crow3
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,2,4
  • Black-capped chickadee4
  • Blue jay1,4
  • Cackling goose2
  • Canada goose1,2,4,5
  • Carolina wren (heard)1,4
  • Common goldeneye2
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2,4
  • Duck sp. (overhead)5
  • Downy woodpecker1,4
  • Eastern bluebird2
  • European starling1,3,4,5
  • Falcon sp.5
  • Gadwall2
  • Great blue heron2,3
  • Hairy woodpecker2
  • Herring gull2
  • Hooded merganser2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2,4,5
  • Mourning dove1,3,4,5
  • Northern cardinal1,4
  • Northern flicker1,2
  • Pine siskin (juvenile, I believe)2
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,4
  • Red-headed woodpecker4
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3,4
  • Ring-billed gull1,2,4
  • Rock pigeon6
  • Tufted titmouse2,4
  • White-throated sparrow1,4
  • Wood duck4
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

The faint “pip, pip, pip” of juncos woke me this morning. Just as I sat down to watch birds, an American robin appeared on a utility line out of nowhere. (They’re stealthy like that: not there and then there and then not there again.) Northern cardinals ate from the safflower seed feeder. A group of four dark-eyed juncos — the source of at least some of the pipping — gathered to feed on spilled nyjer seed. Gulls flew over and all the birds disappeared.

Who am I? What do I believe? What do I value? What is my worth? These are questions I wrote in the margins of my bird journal. I had things to work through as I watched the birds today. Make that every day.

Squirrels raced up and down the trees like fleas over a dog’s back. I thought about a study with crows at the University of Washington that showed fear of harmful people was passed down through generations. Participants in the study wore a specific mask while trapping and banding crows, something the crows aren’t fond of. Thereafter, the crows would scold anyone they saw wearing the same mask. Eleven years after the study, the crows on the UW campus still reacted negatively to anyone with the mask on, even though they themselves never had any direct experience with the masked individuals. (That is, they had never been trapped or banded by anyone wearing the mask.) I thought about trauma in humans and how it’s passed down from one generation to the next. Birds appear to have a region in their brains that is not unlike the human amygdala, an area of the brain that is believed to show increased activity in people who have experienced trauma.

The female northern flicker landed on one of my sweetgums. A male followed. He initiated a mating dance. She hopped away. He hopped closer. He tried the mating dance again. She did not reciprocate. They flew off together after a blue jay came crashing down near them.

Nobody’s opinions define or defile my opinions. Nobody’s beliefs nullify my beliefs. Nobody’s experiences supplant my experiences. Nobody’s approaches discredit the approaches that work for me.

The flickers came back. She wouldn’t dance with him. She preened. She preened some more, her beak plunging into her rump feathers and dragging along the entire length of her tail feathers. He watched her. She ate the peanut bark I’d spread in a knot on the sweetgum’s trunk. He flew to a lower branch to be closer to her. She continued eating while he landed on the ground and ate what had fallen from her beak, which I found at once sweet and miserable.

I value what I perceive. I value what I have learned. I value what I have overcome. I value my strength.

Squirrels mated in a branch above the flickers. European starlings mobbed the peanut bark. From the ground, the flickers watched the intruders squabble for a few minutes before flying into the silver maple. Fifteen Canada geese flew by. A blue jay sounded the alarm call. Others joined in. I couldn’t see the threat, but most of the birds in the yard cleared out. The jays quieted down, though they continued to patrol the yard. Seven more geese flew by.

Locations — in my backyard, at Lake Olathe, at Sprint Wetlands, at Leawood City Park, and driving to and from these locations.


1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at Lake Olathe
3. Seen at Sprint Wetlands
4. Seen at Leawood City Park
5. Seen at Meadowbrook Park
6. Seen while driving

Twitter: Light-Catchers

A staircase of shelf fungus scales the side of a hawthorn tree.

All around me, the ground undulates. Robins shovel leaves in search of food. “Do what you want to do” floats into my mind as clear as birdsong.

A Carolina wren sings a medley that includes the song my wren at home sings. B-flat followed by G-flat, repeated five times.

A female hooded merganser sleeps on a sheet of ice, her mate nowhere in sight. Upstream, a great blue heron squats low in the water, drenching its chest.

I like talking with the old men who don’t seem to have anyone.

Hawthorn tree: Your fungus is soft, your spikes hard. This is life.

At home, I get out my piccolo and play along with the birds.

A child screams like a hawk — or maybe a hawk screams like a child.

Frozen water droplets hang from the branches like thousands of crystal balls. Light-catchers, these drops tell our future.

Trees shred the wind. My dog sleeps.

I feel like the dark-eyed junco in my yard who has the excreta of another bird stuck to its tail.

Language is in my fingers these days, not my mouth.

I am ill and screaming like a starling.

Even the noisy house sparrow calls me back to the present.

My thoughts yellow like old paper.

Winter: Snow remains in the shadow my house casts.

Life: looking down to see the remains of a dead bird at your feet.

Bare tree limbs speak to each other in Morse code.

Starlings pull up the garland of the sky and hang it on trees. — Jeff Schwaner

Life is better since I started pointing my camera away from me. By camera, I mean mind.

Bird Roll Call: January 18, 2018

  • American crow (flying one block over)
  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Carolina wren
  • Cooper’s hawk
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Ring-billed gull
  • White-throated sparrow

I woke to see that the northern flicker had learned how to stand on my feeder’s raccoon baffle and flick his long tongue into the ports to retrieve seeds. Once he grew bored of that activity and moved on, I turned my attention to the ground, where several types of birds were eating the seed the flicker had spilled. I was able to identify a first-winter white-throated sparrow mingling with the group. I am learning how to see and interpret important markings on birds that help with identification. In the case of this particular bird, these markings include slightly streaked flanks and a smudged central breast spot, as compared with the clean gray breast of the adult. (It helped that there was an adult present for comparison.)

The Carolina wren appeared for a breakfast of plain suet. I was hoping he’d sing after he ate. He didn’t disappoint. At the front of the house, he launched into a three-note tune that I haven’t yet documented. The first note was an A-flat, and the final was a G-natural. The middle note fell between the half step. He repeated the notes three or four times for the most part before pausing and then beginning a new set. When he first started singing, I thought I detected an additional element between sets — a refrain of two buzzed notes with the same pitch. As he went on, the buzzing disappeared and he stuck with the main song. I was running to the front of the house at the time in order to hear him better, so I wasn’t able to document the pitch of the buzzed notes.

All morning, the sky was streaked with European starlings flying west. By 10 a.m., the ground rippled with the shadows of Canada geese. A little later, gulls flew over in the opposite direction. I thought of clouds passing by on warm summer days, but this was not that. This was winter, through and through.

Late morning, the Cooper’s hawk flew into my neighbor’s yard in pursuit of something it saw from the sky. She missed whatever she was after and flew to a nearby tree before flying up and over my house.

I saw a red-tailed hawk fly over the house twice today, or perhaps I saw two red-tailed hawks fly over once each. As of yesterday, I know I have two in the immediate area.

Watching these birds is like flipping through an old illustrated book, one that’s yellowed with time and holds great mystery.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: January 11, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Carolina wren
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Ring-billed gull
  • White-throated sparrow

I woke to church bells. It was cold and growing colder. Over the course of the day, water turned into ice. Frozen droplets hung from the silver maple’s scaled bark and clung to every branch. They looked like one thousand crystal balls portending one thousand potential futures. Pellets of ice fell from the sky like flour being shaken through a sieve.

The ice amplified noise from adjacent streets. Roads cracked and howled as traffic passed. Eventually, the wind kicked up and did its own share of howling.

Early in the day, the dark-eyed juncos’ tails were splayed, gray and white fans half folded, half spread. Perhaps their feathers froze in these positions overnight and needed time to thaw.

A wet cardinal flew near my cracked window. His wings sounded like the pages of a flipbook being thumbed.

The birds seemed panicked, frenzied. Yesterday’s animato had given way to today’s agitato. There were skirmishes at the window feeder all day. The northern flicker devoured the suet he rarely touches, the red patch on the back of his head water-tousled. His pecking on the suet cake sounded like someone hammering numbers into a license plate. A few feet away, the red-bellied woodpecker’s drumming on the silver maple sounded like a tin sign being tapped with a penny nail.

Gulls flew over, paper cutouts on a paper-white sky. A male northern cardinal used a teal Adirondack chair for cover.

European starlings acted lost, dejected. They wanted to eat the suet, but the northern flicker wouldn’t let them. He would bite their legs and pin them to the ground when they approached. They wandered through a plate of seed I’d left on the patio, uninterested, before clomping around in the vinca below the suet feeder, their heads pulled tight against their bodies. One let out a half-hearted “tee-ka-tuh-dee, tuh-dee-doh” before taking off for the back fence. Was it a complaint? A protest? The bird equivalent of cursing?

The red-bellied woodpecker flew off in the erratic path of a pilot who doesn’t trust his own instruments. With a flash of his gold-leaf undersides, the northern flicker flew up and over the patio roof. A single American goldfinch remained perched on the patio’ nyjer feeder.

With the northern flicker gone, a starling went for the suet. Then another and another. I let them.

Location — in my backyard.