Back Yard Bird-Watching – Blaugust 7

690 words.

The classic and ubiquitous American Robin from many years ago at a different house.

My dad was an avid backyard bird-watcher. He would setup bird feeders and watch all the wildlife that showed up through binoculars from the living room. In the early days of video cameras, this was back in the 80s, I remember he’d setup one of those monstrous suitcase-sized VHS camcorders on a tripod to record birds at the feeders.

He was very protective of the backyard birds. If any neighborhood cats strayed too close, he would get a little pump-action BB gun and actually shoot at the cats from a downstairs bathroom window until they left the property. As far as I know, he never hurt any cats (probably didn’t even hit them), just scared them away and trained them to fear the property line.

I never understood his fascination with birds … until now.

Flycatcher nesting outside my back door. Still not sure exactly what it is but maybe an Eastern Phoebe? I never heard a song, just little peeps and chirps.

I moved into my current house in 2016. The back side of the house is pretty much all yard and forest with very little indication of nearby civilization. (In fact there’s a 4-lane highway within a mile and an airport within 10 miles.) There are deer, cats, groundhogs, opossum, I even saw a fox once. There are also tons and tons of birds.

I didn’t pay much attention to them until last year when I noticed an enterprising bird had built a nest in the porch right outside my back door. I got a front row seat to the entire process of watching a pair of birds appear, build a nest, lay some eggs, raise some babies, and disappear. What I presume are the exact same pair of flycatchers returned this year and built a nest in the same place-twice! I took about a million pictures of their development and even some video. It was fascinating to observe all the regular patterns of bird behavior, which I had previously assumed was entirely random.

This might be a bluebird, gathering nesting material.

Unfortunately those flycatchers didn’t fare as well this year. This year, Gracie the Stray Cat got one of the fledglings from the first flycatcher nest. I didn’t expect them to return after that, but they built a second nest. Everything seemed fine until one day they abandoned it and disappeared, and I still don’t know why. The eggs never hatched. I don’t think Gracie had anything to do with it, but it’s possible she might have caught one or more of the parents out and about somewhere. I never saw any evidence of it, though. Regardless, the flycatchers have not returned. I haven’t seen or heard them since.

The point is now I find myself studying all the birds I find in my back yard, trying to identify them, listening to and recording calls and songs. I’m contemplating things I’ve never done before, like getting a hummingbird feeder so the occasional hummingbirds I see by my window will stick around. I’m thinking about getting bird feeders and bird baths, things I never would have given a second thought to before. But I’ve noticed there’s quite a cottage industry around backyard bird paraphernalia. It’s not a cheap hobby.

Here is, I think, a young wren shortly after leaving their nest. This little guy sat in this boxwood right outside my kitchen window flapping his wings and preening for a while before leaving.

There is also the problem of cats. There are a lot of them around here. Beyond the cost of it, the cats make me hesitate to try to attract more birds. Gracie herself enjoys stalking things outside, mostly insects, though I’ve seen her catch a bird once, in the snow this past winter. Besides my cat, which I can at least control a little bit, the neighbor across the street has a couple of cats, and a slew of them live a few houses up the road. It’s not exactly a “safe” area here for birds, but then nowhere is, really.

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