Quite by accident, I found a movie on cable about fanatical bird watchers, called “The Big Year.” The 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.
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. 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.