Birdwatching A National Past Time


I have drawn 2 conclusions from the lockdowns across the world. The first is that people read a lot more books and the second is that bird watching became a national past time. We’ve had feeders at our house since we moved in. However, I spent some serious time on the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website this past month to identify some birds I’ve struggled with. And boy what a surprise.

I don’t remember the MDC website having bird feeder recipes or having tips and tricks for getting an assortment of birds to your feeders. I have at least 33 species of songbirds visiting my feeders. I say at least because the house sparrow is the only type of freaking sparrow I can differentiate from other sparrows and frankly, I’m not sure I can tell a Carolina Wren from one of the dozens of species of brownish-whiteish-greyish sparrows. By my estimates I have 10 different types of sparrows/wrens/female dull colored finches. I also realized while I can always tell something is a woodpecker I can’t necessarily tell them all apart… for example the Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker look so similar, I have to keep reminding myself the basic difference is the shape and size of their red mark and the females, well whatever… it’s a woodpecker. Furthermore, Red-Bellied woodpeckers on my feeders don’t look much different than a pileated woodpecker seen at a distance. I have all 4 of these types of woodpeckers around the house pluse the red-headed woodpecker that I can always identify.

I’ve also gotten lucky enough to see a Bald Eagle land near the house. We have a hay field across the 2-lane rural highway from our backyard. I’ve seen hawks and owls hunt in that field before. As I sat out here on Monday morning watching the birds before I started writing, I realized that suddenly the dozen or so songbirds on my fence and feeders had all gone very silent. I sat back in my chair and saw a very large bird with a white underside in the sky over that field. I was contemplating whether it was a hawk or not when it decided to land. The hay is about 2 feet tall right now, a deer can lay down and hide in it. And the bird landed in the field and was taller than the grass. I almost immediately heard an animal squealing (which I suspect was a rabbit) and that’s when I realized it was a bald eagle.

I once saw a bald eagle up close at the zoo and was shocked by the size. It was on a branch about a foot off the ground and was still taller than my waist. Eagles have been making a comeback in Mid-Missouri and northern Missouri the last couple of years. I’d like more raptors to hunt in the hay field, help keep the mice population down.

Anyway, I’ve seen other people post on social media about them having feeders up for the first time. Next time my feeders are empty, I’m going to try some of the MDC’s more “creative feeder recipes” which include plain popped popcorn, bread crumbs, unsalted shelled peanuts, and other interesting things. The most surprising thing; is that I have only seen one Blue Jay all year and it was dead. However, I have seen way more cardinals since we moved here than ever before. I have 2 birds that I have yet to identify: a greyish-bluish-brownish songbird that is very vocal and has a longish beak and longish neck (I suspect it is either a catbird or a grey nuthatch) and we had a dark colored hummingbird at one of our hummingbird feeders. I have seen hundreds of ruby throated hummingbirds both male and female and the coloration wasn’t right for that, it was really dark, I thought it was a super large moth sitting on my fence until started walking to it and it flew off – at which point I could see the beak and the way it moved and it was definitely a hummingbird.

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