If you see me quietly staring out a window, either that of a building or a car, I’m likely looking for birds. Right now there’s a few Canada geese flying over. It’s barely light outside and they are already moving from the pond across the way down to the creek. I stop and listen. Do you know why they fly in V fomation? It helps combat wind resistance and allows the flock to fly for longer distances. The goose in the front serves as the leader and is victim to the most resistance. The job is switched out as the goose gets tired. All that honking? It’s done by everyone but the leader. The rest of the geese are cheering him on for taking the most difficult position. In V formation the flock can easily see one another. If someone falls behind because of injury or weakness, two other geese will drop back and land with the down bird. Those two will stay with him until he recovers or dies. They also pick a mate for life. The Canada Goose tends to be a more loyal friend and partner than most humans.
Canada geese are truly my first bird love. My grandfather had a flock of them when I was growing up. They were a retired group of live decoys that belonged to my great uncle. When most kids had puppies and kittens, I had Cheepy. Cheepy was an orphan Canada goose that my father found wandering by himself. To this day, I can still perfectly mimic a goose call.
Me and my Cheepy … many moons ago.
Even though they are my childhood favorites, I think they have made me a keen observer to the behavior of others. Months ago, I stood at a window at work and watched a robin hopping around the parking lot. “That’s the first robin I have seen in days. It’s only a matter of time now.” Winter came and the robins were all gone. With the first day of March, I have seen them reappearing. Spring is coming and they are getting back to their breeding grounds. Speaking of breeding, isn’t it neat how the female robin sits on the nest at night while all the male robins gather together and roost in the trees? It’s almost like all of the guys meeting for a beer after work.
I’ve seen the Carolina wren poking around my Camellia bushes. Will the bushes be suitable for wren families again this year? Yesterday I heard the first male singing his proud song at the top of the bald crepe myrtles. That is how you differentiate your male and female Carolina wrens. The females sing very modest songs, but those males you’ll find at the top of the tree, beak up and face to the sky singing as loud as he can go.
Another sure sign of spring is that the Goldfinches are getting testy. As they begin to molt in late winter, this mild mannered bird seems to become less tolerant of others. Each day is a little longer and the male finches are getting a bit brighter. They are the only finch that molts. They are also the strictest of vegetarians. Which is why brown-headed cowbirds babies cannot survive in their care.
The American Goldfinch
What? Why would there be brown-headed cowbirds in their care? I’m so glad you asked! It’s a sad story, but every time I tell it I am amazed over and over again how instinct works. Brown-headed cowbirds are considered a parasitic bird. A female brown-headed cowbird will lay up to three dozen eggs in one year… in other birds’ nest! That’s right, they do not raise their own chicks. They deposit them in nest that are unattended with busy parents who are out collecting food. They sometimes knock out the eggs or hatchlings of the working parents to make room for their own. The BHC eggs hatch faster than most other species of birds, therefor giving these chicks a head start and a better chance at thriving in the strangers’ nest. Isn’t it amazing? How does a bird that was abandoned by its mother the moment it was laid as an egg know to repeat the same process when it is of breeding age? Instinct! So frickin’ amazing!
Common Grackles, Red-Winged Blackbirds and a Brown-Headed Cowbird
With the coming of spring, I will be sad because I’ll see less and less of my Blue Jays until the desperation of next winter comes. They generally only frequent my yard in the harshest times of winter. There will be happy birds dining at all feeders until suddenly they hear the call of a red-tail hawk. All the happy birds clear the feeders to avoid becoming someone’s lunch. Quietly, one by one, seven Blue Jays come to the feeders. Blue Jays are a non-confrontational bird and do not want to fight over a feeding spot. They use their special skill, mimicking a red-tail hawk call, and clear the other birds out. They quickly stuff their gullet and head on out before the others come back.
The chickadees are reprogramming their brains as we speak. In the fall, the chickadee’s brain allows neurons to die which contain old information about their social flock and environment in their cute tiny brains.
The Tufted Titmouse
Soon we’ll be seeing Cardinals attacking themselves in the reflection of glass and car mirrors. They are such determined defenders of their breeding grounds they will attack anything that looks like another cardinal.
I could go on and on for hours about birds. I love them and their behavior. I haven’t even got a chance to go into pigeons and grackles!
I have learned to watch the birds for all the information I need about the weather. Those weathermen don’t know anything with their fancy gadgets. Watch the birds. You’ll see when winter is truly coming and when to look for spring. You’ll learn about loyalty and how to watch out and support your friends. Call me a bird brain all you want, the birds I’ve known have been better friends than most people I’ve came across.