Friday, November 25, 2011

Chickadees, Vultures, Doves, and the Love of Birds

"We learned to be patient observers like the owl. We learned cleverness from the crow, and courage from the jay, who will attack an owl ten times its size to drive it off its territory. But above all of them ranked the chickadee because of its indomitable spirit." -Tom Brown, Jr., The Tracker (Quote found on Legends of

I read this quote and an image began to form in my mind of the little black-capped chickadees in my backyard in Texas, hopping from branch to branch, sometimes clinging to the bark, sometimes brushing against the colorful leaves that spiraled to the ground as the chickadees danced. When I stepped through the back door, that was the first sound to greet me--the sound of the playful, life-loving chickadees.

I remember watching the black vultures that lived in the forest behind my house in Kingsland, Texas. Every night, I would climb a ladder to the roof of the house to photograph the spectacular Texas sunset for my friends and family, and every night, a mated pair of black vultures flew out of the forest, gliding over the roof of my house so close to my head I could feel the beat of their wings in the passing air, then landing on a nearby utility post where they would face the setting sun, sometimes snuggling close to each other, watching, as I watched. When the sun was down, and I started back down the ladder, the vultures would return to the forest behind my house.

Last night, as I watched a flock of white winged doves in the backyard of my house in New Mexico, I noticed they, too, turned to watch the setting sun. I filled the bird trays with seed a few minutes earlier, and they hovered over the trays, fluttering up and down, trying to find the best access to the seed, and yet, so patient with their family and friends. Then, when the sun moved lower in the sky and the Sandia Mountains turned their classic shade of pink, the birds turned to watch.

Sometimes I feel as if these birds are speaking to me in their songs and their behavior. I feel as if they are teaching me, reminding me to slow down and watch the sun rise, and the sun set, and appreciate its beauty. They're telling me to listen to the wind in the trees and let that be my music. They are telling me to dance, wild and free, among the leaves of the trees as they fall to the ground. They are telling me to enjoy life while I can, and I am listening.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Storm Warning

There was a storm warning today and I watched the clouds all afternoon as they rolled back onto themselves above the mountains then slowly spread like a blanket over the valley.

I knew there was a storm coming from the behavior of the birds. Early this morning, they started hovering around the food dishes. When there is a change in the weather, the birds eat more food, as if they're stocking up on energy to cope with the cold air.

Then the rain came. It was a light rain, most likely due to the fierce winds that rattled across the roof and made the windows tremble.

The little sparrows flew into the shrub tree on the side of the house, but they did not perch on top like they usually do during the day. Instead, they hid inside the branches.

I watched them through the kitchen window as I cleaned house. They took turns poking their little heads out between the leaves to check and see if the rain had stopped. They avoided the section facing the backyard as the wind would have hit them hard on their tiny faces. Instead, they peeked out through the leaves that face the side of the house where they have more shelter from the cold.

When evening came, the winds slowed to a stop, but the clouds remained, hovering over the mountains, above our house, and to the west. In Rio Rancho, when the sun sets, it's generally gold and orange to the west where the sun goes down, shades of gray and purple to the north and south, with pink shades on the mountains.

When I took the dogs out, the two large birds were standing near the food dish, waiting for their late-night snack.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Big Birds!

There is a pair of big birds living outside our back door. They're not as large as crows. They are about the size of grackles. They have orange eyes, hooked beaks, and...they like me!

These two birds are interesting in the way they communicate with me. When the seed dish is empty, and they see me walk outside, they will hop from tree, to chair back, to table top, following me as I move through the yard until I realize they are hungry and fetch some food.

They also interest me because they are obviously a mated pair, are openly affectionate toward each other in ways that I haven't seen since I studied the black vultures in Texas. They also occasionally bicker. They get along well with the sparrows. In fact, I believe they all live together in the same bushy tree on the side of my house.

A few days ago, I went outside to photograph the sunset and noticed that one of the big birds was sitting in the empty bird feeder next to my head, staring off to the east as if watching the sun set with me. (In Rio Rancho, we watch the sun set to the east because the setting sun turns the mountains pink.)

Tonight, the big bird couple were sitting beside the seed dish waiting for me. I would like to find out what kind of birds they are, but for now, the title of big birds will do. Or, I could call them Joe and Martha. I have a feeling they will respond to anything I call them as long as I bring them seed!

Update: Since my husband does not believe she looks like a Martha, she will now be named Jill. Joe and Jill. Nice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Little Sparrows

I am so thrilled to have a flock of sparrows in my tree. It's more like a shrub that climbs the brick wall around the property. It's the perfect height--six feet. Chewy can jump up and down as much as he wants, but he can't reach them. The chocolate twins know better than to harm other creatures now. They're older. The cat got out a few nights ago, though. He's the oldest of the bunch, and they all know it. They show him the respect he deserves. When it comes to hunting, though, he's still a kitten. He obviously caught something in the dark. I won't go into detail.

These sparrows in the shrub beside my back door are suburban birds. They're not as shy as the birds in Texas. The birds in Texas came out of the forest, though many of the birds were born in nests in our garage. The birds in New Mexico will sit on the fence and on top of the shrub, waiting for me to fill the food dish with seed. They are even closer to the house than the flock in Texas was, but they are comfortable, which is a good thing.

Sometimes the sparrows chatter like the little birds in Texas, but it's a bit colder here, and most of the time they sit and stare at me, the dogs, and each other, their feathers fluffed up so they look like little balls on top of leaves.

There is something magical about watching birds hop around each other, look at each other, chatter to each other. Sometimes, you can almost understand what they are saying, especially when they are paired with a mate.

This morning, I watched a male eating in the seed dish while the female waited patiently on the rock wall, then suddenly he turned and looked right at her and made a quick, soft sound. He jumped to the opposite side of the brick leaving a space for her to join him. She hopped onto the brick and they ate their breakfast together.

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Mexico

I am in my new home in New Mexico, and in the tree in the backyard there is a small flock of house sparrows, just like in my house in Kingsland. I feed them from a dish on the brick wall around our property--in this area of New Mexico, everyone has brick walls around their properties instead of fences.

The parking lots are filled with grackles chattering endlessly as they do in Texas. They come to our house, too. Sometimes I see them hopping about on the brick walls, eating from the food dish.

The day we arrived, as we were unpacking, I heard a crow calling from far away. I stood in the driveway, waiting. It came closer and eventually flew over our house then flew in a circle around the rooftop, calling out once more before flying to the neighbor's roof where it landed, watching me work.

The view from my back porch is breathtaking. Every night, at sunset, for five or ten minutes, the mountains turn pink or red, depending on the season. This is one of my favorite memories of my earlier life here with my children when they were babies--standing on our back porch, my children in my arms as we watched the mountains turn pink.

We also stood in the yard and watched the hot air balloons pass overhead. This is where the balloons float by during the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, and the balloons fly over all year long when the weather is good.

Yesterday, I was typing in my room when I heard what sounded like a giant breathing, and I knew it was the balloons. I ran outside with the dogs and we watched together, staring up at the sky as six balloons floated over the house.

Tonight it was raining, and there was a sunset in front of the mountains, but they still turned pink. It looked like Christmas.