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Backyard Birding

I’ve been stuck on the couch often in the last few months, and the wild birds have helped keep me sane. I enjoy watching them, and the entertainment always changes. Now that I’m mobile again, it’s not a lifesaver anymore, but I am grateful to be able to do some birding in the comfort of my own home.

We have resident black-capped chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, and common redpolls that visit our feeder and trees every day. My husband prefers the well-mannered chickadees and nuthatches. The chickadees are so perky, and I love their call, “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” The nuthatches are talented in walking upside down on tree trunks (which allows them to catch the bugs other birds miss). These two often come in smaller groups and share the feeder at the same time. The redpolls come in flocks, and they’re messy eaters, spilling seeds onto the ground, pushing each other off the feeder perch. But the redpolls are never boring–there’s always something to watch when they’re out.

As a special treat, Bohemian waxwings arrive in late winter, large flocks swooping and swirling. Waxwings land in our mountain ash tree, hanging almost upside down on a bobbing branch, beating wings to hang onto clusters of berries. I admire their elegant cockades, watch a couple (one plumper than the other, maybe making eggs already?) sharing ash berries with each other. After feeding, they hang out in the backyard to digest their meal. I expect to find the remnants of berries there in the spring.

But my all-time favorites are the corvids: Steller’s jays, black-billed magpies, and ravens. These are the big, smart birds. The jay’s beautiful iridescence belies its raucous, raspy call; it glares at me if there’s nothing out for him (or her?) on the deck. Ravens and magpies case the neighborhood for tasty trash or carcasses. I enjoy the magpie’s sassy swooping flight, especially if the sunlight hits its blue-black feathers. (And in one of my historical romances, a character is described as “pretty as a magpie, but just as noisy.”)The intelligent raven’s varied calls (caw, croak, cluck, drop of water) announce its presence more often than a sighting, but I am comforted to have ravens close by. It wouldn’t feel like home without ravens.

One day during one of our last big snowstorms, one lone waxwing and one redpoll perched on our ash tree, eating the few berries left. They seemed to pay no mind to each other, eating on different branches and tolerating each other as if to say, “any port in a snowstorm, you can share the tree with me.” Maybe there’s a lesson in there for all of us.

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I love to share my passion for Alaska and its history in my writing for young adults and their grown ups.

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