Watch the Birdy

Quite by accident, I found a movie on cable about fanatical bird watchers, called “The Big Year.”  The_Big_Year_PosterThe movie came out in 2011 but I think it probably escaped most peoples’ notice. It was listed as a comedy, but from what I saw of it, it wasn’t all that funny. It was interesting, however, if you have any interest in birds at all. It’s about three guys who are going for the record for the most bird species spotted in a single calendar year: Stu Priess (played by Steve Martin), Brad Harris (played by Jack Black) and the most determined of them all, Kenny Bostick (played by Owen Wilson). These guys drop whatever they’re doing to catch sightings of elusive birds to add to their lists. Preiss mentors Harris, and they become good friends, while Bostick is just ruthless about trying to win the record as the best birder in the world. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but if you’re a bird enthusiast at all you’ll probably like this movie. I’m really enjoying Steve Martin’s work in the last few years. I almost think he sort of wasted himself doing comedy, as he’s really a fine actor.

So that said, I can’t say I’m an avid birder, but I do like knowing which species I have in my own backyard and in my area. It kind of surprises me how little people know about the natural world right in their own yards anymore. For many years I kept a number of feeders filled on my back deck to feed my fine-feathered friends and they politely came and cleaned them out. Unfortunately I’m no longer able, financially or temporally able to keep up, except for the hummingbird feeder. But over the years here are some of the birds I’ve been fortunate enough to have visit my yard:

Pine siskin  They’re very small, like a dainty sparrow

Evening Grosbeak  These guys show up in flocks, fill the trees and proceed to deafen you with their loud whistling calls.

Oregon junco I call them the executioners because they look like they’re wearing an executioner’s hood. But they’re really sweet and shy.

Cedar Waxwing cedar waxwing3

Steller’s Jay. Loud, obnoxious typical jays.

Robins who back east are a harbinger of spring, actually show up here in the winter. They’re quite striking with their pretty red breasts sitting in the snow.

Red-winged blackbirds. I think they have just about the prettiest song of any bird I’ve ever heard. This photo isn’t in my yard, but I did take it. I do get a lot of these guys in the yard, they’re just hard to photograph.


Goldfinches. Nothing like the sight of a pink-flowering dogwood filled with bright yellow goldfinches. I wish I’d gotten a picture of it before I lost the dogwood tree. It fell over in a snow storm one year, apparently victim to a disease that’s killing dogwoods around the country.

Bald eagles.Nice eagle   Ok, they’re not actually in my yard, although they nest not far from me and occasionally will honor me with a fly-over.

Red-tailed hawks They circle around a lot, and twice I’ve seen them take down a bird in my yard. Once was last October while I was on the front porch hanging up the lights, and WHOOSH, right in the yard, not ten feet from me. I froze, I didn’t know what to do. He stayed there awhile, but I must have flinched because he finally took his prize and flew off with it in his talons.

Flickers. They’re big, part of the woodpecker family. You’ll see them on the ground a lot, digging in the dirt though.

Red-breasted nuthatches and white-breasted nuthatches. Screwy birds, they like to hang upside down a lot. Gravity seems to mean very little to them.

Black-capped chickadees. If you stand really still with sunflower seeds in your hand they’ll actually hop into your hand and take the seeds. THEY’RE SO CUTE! I love those little guys.

Ring-necked pheasant. I haven’t seen this guy for awhile, but still hear him (or one of his progeny) occasionally. And yes, this was taken in my backyard. It’s freaking Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom here.


And of course loads of blackbirds, woodpeckers, sparrows, hummingbirds.


I’m sure I’ve missed a number of others. I really should start a bird journal.

11 thoughts on “Watch the Birdy

  1. Wow…what a post…never saw that film though love both actors. Bird watching is big in New Yawk. You see so many clad in chinos, binoculars swinging from their necks patiently observing bird life. I have to say, when I see a cardinal or bluejay I too get excited. Go figure…and there was that hawk who looked like Angelica Houston who perched on the bridge I happened to be stretching on. That was something…nice read.


    1. It’s definitely one of those quiet little movies that didn’t get a lot of hype around it. It’s too bad, because it was very interesting. I came in a little late on it, but was drawn in immediately.

      I follow a couple of NY area birders on Twitter. I remember seeing a documentary on HBO about NY birdwatchers. Had some famous folks in it if I recall (Jonathan Franzen for one).


  2. I have never heard of that movie! Surprising since I love Jack Black. Louisiana is a great place to see all kinds of birds. When I was little, my Uncle gave me a field guide a pair of binoculars.

    I used to sit outside for hours trying to identify every single bird I could find. Typical “interesting” birds you see ever day here are Mocking birds, Crows and Blue Jays.

    We have a huge population of Red Winged Blackbirds. I think it’s because we live so close to the coast. I like their calls too. They are one of my favorites.

    In the summer, when you go outside at night, you can hear the Mocking birds signing. Always thought that was strange, as a kid. I later learned that the Male sings at night when he is looking for a mate.

    Small green parrots can be seen a lot too in certain parts of the city. Locals say it is because of a few getting smuggled into the city in the late 50’s and getting loose. The climate here is very much tropical so they thrive in huge colonies.

    They also build massive, communal nests on anything that will support the weight of it. It is really cool to see them taking over cell phone towers. look like giant haystacks up there.

    Interesting post DD. I enjoyed it a lot!


    1. I’d never heard of the movie either, I’m so glad I happened to catch it. I’d like to see it again. I had a love bird that must have escaped from someone’s house sitting in a tree in my yard for a couple days. I tried to coax the little dude to come down so I could rescue him, I’m sure it gets much too cold here for them. Then I never saw him again. I even bought some bird treats to try to tempt him. He’d sit in the tree and answer me when I’d call to him, but wouldn’t come down. 😦

      I can imagine all the different types you must have down there. That’d be a great thing to do with your kids, go out birdwatching. Give them each a small pair of binoculars and make a little contest 🙂 I’d love to see a pic of the parrot nests.


  3. My across-the-street neighbors take their kids birdwatching sometimes – the little girl is so cute in her rubber boots and binoculars!

    Speaking of Steve Martin, have you ever seen/read his play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”? Check it out – it’s a fun read, and occasionally summer stock or regional productions will turn up.


  4. We have hundreds of birds in our backyard and in the trees. We live on a vineyard with a redwood-lined drive and a 300 yr old oak tree at one end. We get them all. Sparrows, swifts, swallows, kites, hawks, California quail, turkeys, owls, songbirds, finches, doves, vultures – you name it. And not just one or two, hordes of ’em. I think I even saw a kingfisher once. I have its picture, but haven’t IDed it. Anyway, the birds roost and nest everywhere at all the various levels the ranch affords. Needless to say, they poop everywhere, too. We’ll definitely get this movie. I hope it’s on Netflix…

    Thanks for sharing! And I’m sure you’ll get a chance to feed them again. Have you considered putting out nesting structures? You can usually put something together with just a bit of spare wood. Oh! We have bats, too. 🙂


    1. How wonderful for you! (except the poop part). I doubt I’ll see that love bird again. It gets way too cold here for them, unless he migrated with other birds I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have survived the winter. It was years ago that I saw it, haven’t seen it since. Poor little thing.

      We have bats here too, which is good. I watch them swooping around my backyard in the twilight. To them I say, Bon appetit! 😉 We have crows here, but not sure about ravens.


      1. We have both ravens and crows. The ravens are huge (kind of scary). They’ll attack the hawks if given reason – I guess. Either way, they always seem to be fighting.

        I’ll have to write a story about them sometime…


      2. I found a fabulous raven Halloween decoration a few years ago on the internet. It’s enormous, and it’s my prized decoration. I’ll have to put up a photo of it around Halloween 😉


Comments are closed.