Twitter: Geometry

I found a heronry today near my home.

Birds froze to things last night: utility lines, branches, feeders. They left feathers behind when they flew away.

Geometry: two northern flickers — one on the utility pole, one in the sweetgum — and me, below, standing between them.

A European starling found a white feather and dropped it in the birdbath.

A blue jay used a peanut shell to bully other blue jays. He wielded it like a little sword.

Overhead, a single herring gull flew behind several ring-billed gulls.

I am as fussy as an American goldfinch.

I don’t know where the birds go at night, but I want to go there, too.

Songbirds slid off iced branches this morning.

The correct image is always a seed — it contains its own explanation, and defines itself. — Charles Wright

The ground has thawed. Squirrels play in the wet grass.

Morning: A squirrel drags a dried hydrangea blossom to his nest in the silver maple.

The grackles arrived this morning. In the near distance, hundreds of Canada geese are moving north. Only a handful of juncos remain. One sings from the back fence.

I hear tapping on a nearby tree. Two red-bellied woodpeckers jag through the air. They needle the sweetgums then disappear.

I am mildly interested in leaving the house but only to go watch birds somewhere else.

Sunny and warm. Clear skies. Two geese fly past the tornado siren tower.

I live knowing there is a Turin horse in my future, a suffering so great it will finally break me.

Bird Roll Call: February 18, 2018

  • American crow2
  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1,2
  • American tree sparrow2
  • Belted kingfisher2
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose (overhead)1,2
  • Carolina wren (heard)1
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • Eastern bluebird2
  • European starling1,2
  • Great horned owl (heard)1
  • Gull sp. (overhead)2
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,2
  • Northern cardinal1,2
  • Northern flicker (male and female)1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2
  • Red-tailed hawk2,3
  • Snow goose (overhead)2
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-throated sparrow1
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

Robins played in the neighbor’s yard. The female northern flicker landed on another neighbor’s chimney cover. Two red-bellied woodpeckers scurried up yet another neighbor’s tree. In my yard, two mourning doves pumped their heads at one another in the silver maple. Later, my partner and I took our dog to Shawnee Mission Park. It was cold and windy. We saw eastern bluebirds and a male belted kingfisher.

Locations — in my backyard and at Shawnee Mission Park.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Shawnee Mission Park

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.

Bird Roll Call: February 10, 2018

  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Belted kingfisher2
  • Black-capped chickadee1
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose3
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • Eastern bluebird1
  • European starling1,3
  • Gull sp.1,3
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker (two males)1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (male and female)1
  • Red-tailed hawk1
  • White-throated sparrow1

I woke late. Several house finches were already piled into the dogwood for a mid-morning nap. The male red-bellied woodpecker was filling a rotted-out sweetgum branch with food. Squirrels were purging old material from their nest in the other sweetgum tree. The detritus fell to the ground and scared the dark-eyed juncos.

A red-tailed hawk made a brief appearance, and the birds only acted half scared. This hawk looked much younger than the last one who visited. Its eyes were barely pigmented enough to be called citrine, and its feathers were in pristine condition. The hawk didn’t stay long. After it left, the songbirds returned to their business which, on a frigid day like this, amounted to eating as much as possible to provide the calories needed for the long, cold night ahead. I read that birds can lose up to ten percent of their body weight on winter nights. Foods like suet, peanut butter, and sunflower seeds provide the fats that are essential this time of year.

Two male northern flickers arrived in the yard at about the same time. They seemed to size each other up. I don’t know if these are the same two males who were vying for the female’s attention a little while back or if the area is overrun with these fellows. The two sat on the fence together for a little bit then separated and did their own thing, one staying on the fence and the other foraging in the garden despite the mild protestations of mourning doves.

Eastern bluebirds arrived in the afternoon. I put peanut butter bits out for them, but they haven’t found them yet. They primarily visit for the water, which is in short supply when everything freezes.

My partner and I went out looking for a suitable branch to append to the main feeder pole. We ended up behind a lawn and garden store in an area that overlooks part of Indian Creek. I stepped to the edge of the cut bank just as a belted kingfisher flew across the water with a fish in its mouth. We rounded out the day with a few Canada geese before returning home with a branch that had broken off a flowering tree in a Walmart parking lot. It wasn’t easy to cram the branch into the car, but it was worth the effort. The birds are going to love their new perch.

Locations — in my backyard, at Indian Creek near 103rd and Roe, and at Indian Creek near 103rd and Metcalf.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen at Indian Creek near 103rd and Nall
3. Seen at Indian Creek near 103rd and Metcalf

Bird Roll Call: February 8, 2018

  • American goldfinch1
  • American robin1
  • Black-capped chickadee1
  • Blue jay1
  • Canada goose (overhead)1
  • Carolina wren (heard)1
  • Cooper’s hawk1
  • Dark-eyed junco1
  • Downy woodpecker1
  • Eastern bluebird1
  • European starling1
  • House finch1
  • House sparrow1
  • Mourning dove1
  • Northern cardinal1
  • Northern flicker1
  • Pine siskin1
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (male and female**)1
  • Red-tailed hawk1,2
  • Rock pigeon2
  • White-throated sparrow1

Thanks to my new camera, I finally got good photos of the accipiter who frequents my yard. Now that I can see details that I couldn’t make out before, I believe this is actually a Cooper’s hawk, not a sharp-shinned hawk.

The male red-bellied woodpecker had a female with him today. That’s the first time I’ve seen a female in the yard. Very exciting.

I saw the male and female bluebirds at the birdbath just before eight this morning. I saw the male again about an hour later.

Locations — in my backyard and while driving through town. A double asterisk indicates first sighting in my yard.


1. Seen at home
2. Seen while driving

Bird Roll Call: February 5, 2018

  • American crow (overhead)
  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Carolina wren
  • Cooper’s hawk
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Eastern bluebird
  • European starling
  • Gull sp. (overhead)
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Pine siskin
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • White-throated sparrow

I woke to rabbit tracks crisscrossing the yard, along with areas where the snow had been nosed away so the rabbit could graze on the grass beneath it.

The male and female bluebirds returned. Our birdbath must be one of the only sources of water in the area. I saw them three times throughout the day. Each time, I clapped with joy.

At least one dozen mourning doves took off suddenly and flew over the house. The Cooper’s hawk was perched high in my neighbor’s silver maple. When a Cooper’s hawk arrives, the term birdwatching becomes literal: You are suddenly watching just one bird, the one who has scared off all the others.

After about an hour, the littles started making their way back. They didn’t realize the hawk was still standing sentinel in the tree. Dark-eyed juncos, house finches, northern cardinals, and white-throated sparrows hopped along the fence railing and kicked at the ground. Both chickadees visited the feeders. I was happy to see that they made it through the frigid night. (I saw the Carolina wren later as well, another species that’s especially fragile in extremely cold weather.) One of the chickadees saw the hawk and mounted an attack. It was mob behavior without the mob. Though there wasn’t another bird in sight fighting off the hawk, the chickadee wasn’t deterred.

Birds shot through the sky, veering off course as soon as they saw the hawk. Blue jays arrived and sounded their alarms in unison. The hawk flew off to the east.

A blue jay landed in the sweetgum and found the red-bellied woodpecker’s stash of food in the jagged remains of a branch. I knew that spot wouldn’t remain concealed for long. I suppose the jay earned a reward for protecting the other birds and getting the hawk to move on.

I started taking pictures of the birds. Alarm calls rose and fell throughout the morning and into the afternoon, leaving the yard bereft of birds for swaths of time. But overall, the yard was bustling. By the end of the day, twenty-one species had either come for a visit or flown by overhead. It was a good day.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: February 4, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Blue jay
  • Carolina wren
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Eastern bluebird
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Pine siskin
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • White-throated sparrow

Today, I looked up at one of the sweetgum trees and thought squirrels had built a nest on a low branch. The nest was actually the red-tailed hawk. I got out my new camera and took dozens of photos. The images allowed me to see much more detail than I could have otherwise. The luminous amber eye. The back feathers frayed into the shape of throwing stars. The look on the hawk’s face when blue jays were diving at its head — not irritated but something closer to hurt or disappointment.

The songbirds didn’t scatter at the hawk’s presence. They maintained a respectful (and safe) distance in the bushes and trees lining the fence. Once the blue jays succeeded in driving the hawk away, the birds emerged.

It started to snow, teasingly at first and then with conviction. The red-tailed hawk came back and sat like an urn in the neighbor’s silver maple. None of the songbirds were bothered by the raptor’s presence. Perhaps the weather was bad enough for everyone to agree to share the same space.

Dark-eyed juncos hopped through the new snow like children. I took photos of the juncos, the male northern flicker, the red-bellied woodpecker, half a downy woodpecker (she was moving too fast for me to catch her in the frame), and several house finches, including the one who is missing several wing feathers.

Looking at the photos later, I saw that the northern flicker’s breast and belly have the appearance of hearts instead of spots — dozens of tiny valentines saying to the female who passed him over, “Pick me, pick me.” Maybe that’s what his plaintive cry means. “Kyeer, kyeer. Kyeer, kyeer.” Pick me. Pick me.

I am so in love with these birds. Their lives are beautiful, complicated, and heartbreaking. I can’t wait to see them again tomorrow.

I almost forgot to mention that two eastern bluebirds visited the yard today. Such a wonderful surprise!

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: January 23, 2018

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Blue jay
  • Canada goose (overhead)
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Mourning dove
  • Northern cardinal
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • White-throated sparrow

The female northern flicker flew into the yard just after 2 p.m. She sat in one sweetgum for a long time before spreading her wings and flying to the other sweetgum. A male northern flicker saw her and flew into a branch higher on the tree. I thought he might start courting her, but in a surprise turn of events, a second male landed in the tree. It looks like she has a choice to make.

For the second day in a row, a squirrel has been unsuccessful at carrying twigs to his nest. He gets to a fork in the trunk and can’t negotiate his way beyond it. I watched him drop half a dozen twigs today. He finally gave up on the twigs and attempted to carry a mouthful of dried leaves to the nest. This, too, was a failure. I watched as the leaves drifted to the ground, one after another. It was like fall again, on a very small scale. I hope the squirrel works out his technique soon. Building a nest is important, and time is of the essence.

I noticed a newly cleared hole in one of the sweetgums. It’s a slightly jagged round opening with a dusting of fresh wood tailings snagged on the bark beneath it. I suspect a red-bellied woodpecker bored out the hole based on its size and resemblance to the ones I saw the same woodpeckers drilling at Leawood City Park last week.

Location — in my backyard.

Bird Roll Call: January 19, 2018

  • American crow1,2
  • American goldfinch1,2
  • American robin1,2
  • Black-capped chickadee2,3
  • Blue jay1,2
  • Canada goose (overhead)2
  • Carolina wren2
  • Common goldeneye2
  • Cooper’s / sharp-shinned hawk4
  • Dark-eyed junco1,2,3
  • Downy woodpecker1,2
  • European starling1,2
  • Golden-crowned kinglet*2
  • Great blue heron2
  • Hairy woodpecker (two, both male)*2
  • Hooded merganser2
  • House finch1,2
  • House sparrow1
  • Mallard2
  • Mourning dove1,3
  • Northern cardinal1,2,3
  • Northern flicker1,3
  • Red-bellied woodpecker1,2,3
  • Red-tailed hawk2
  • Ring-billed gull (overhead)1,3
  • Ring-necked duck2
  • Swainson’s thrush*2
  • Tufted titmouse2
  • White-breasted nuthatch2,3
  • White-throated sparrow (including first-winter birds)2,3
  • Wood duck2
  • Yellow-rumped warbler2

After watching the birds at my house in the morning, I drove to Leawood City Park. I wanted to take advantage of the warmer weather by staying out for the better part of the day.

I crossed over the first bridge at the park and headed toward a viewing area overlooking the creek. I saw a great blue heron surrounded by several species of ducks. The heron looked like a chess piece. The ducks looked like fancy marbles. I looked up and saw a red-bellied woodpecker hollowing out a nest cavity in a nearby tree, his rump and tail protruding from the trunk. A few feet down the path and to my right, I saw my first-ever golden-crowned kinglet. At first, I assumed it was a black-capped chickadee, but it was smaller and the markings were all wrong. I was delighted when the bird lowered its head and revealed its gleaming crest. “Hello,” I said, because I talk to birds now.

I continued down the path to the bridge that crosses the stream. This is a popular bathing spot for birds. Unfortunately, frigid temperatures over the past week had left the creek’s shallow edges frozen down this way. The water was flowing in the middle, but the birds aren’t able to bathe there because the water is too deep. I saw a couple of robins in this area, what I believe was another golden-crowned kinglet, and a handful of house finches.

On my way back, I heard two large animals. I thought they were dogs. When I turned, I saw two white-tailed deer coming toward me then veering to the right. They disappeared into the trees as quickly as they appeared, like someone had opened a life-sized pop-up book, then suddenly snapped it closed. Once they were gone, it didn’t seem like they’d ever been there. A blue jay began sounding its alarm call in the area where I’d seen the ducks. When I went to find out what was going on, I saw that the jay was taking a bath near a tangle of roots from a tree that had fallen into the creek. Perhaps this was the equivalent of humans singing in the shower, only louder and steeped in greater discontent. Two mallards, a male and a female, crunched through leaves as they made their way up the creek’s steep bank. A second female started to follow but quickly returned to the water. The climb seemed to be too arduous for her.

I walked off the main path and onto a dirt trail. Along the way, several Carolina wrens entertained me with their chatter and animated body language. I saw one with spots on its back, a marking I haven’t seen before. My presence flushed a red-tailed hawk from its resting spot. It flew over the creek and into a tree, where it watched a group of dawdling mallards and hooded mergansers. I worried about a male hooded merganser who seemed especially vulnerable to a potential attack. I looked back up at the hawk. It was gone. Deer tracks spilled over the cut bank and picked up again near the water’s edge. Bare branches scratched against one another in a kind of Morse code meant only for the trees. Thin roots snaked across the ground. A thought scratched inside my mind: “Can I like things just as they are?” I kept walking. On the water, the reflection of a plastic bag snagged on a branch bore a striking resemblance to the great blue heron I had just seen.

I crossed back over the first bridge and headed to the right. I saw Carolina wrens, black-capped chickadees, and white-throated sparrows. A cherubic red squirrel dozed on a teeny-tiny branch. I found several wood ducks perching in one of their favorite spots. A male downy woodpecker flitted to my left. To my right, high in a tree, I saw two male hairy woodpeckers. I watched them for a long time to make sure I was identifying them correctly. This was my first hairy woodpecker sighting. On the ground, I saw the remains of an American robin — tufts of downy orange-tipped breast feathers strewn about and a headless body with a gray tail and wings. The bird had just been killed, perhaps by the red-tailed hawk I’d seen. I had walked right into the carnage without realizing it.

Locations — in my backyard, at Leawood City Park, at Roe Park, and while driving to and from these locations. A single asterisk indicates first sighting.


1. Seen at my home
2. Seen at Leawood City Park
3. Seen at Roe Park
4. Seen while driving

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.