Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Missing in Action

Whenever I see a bird feeder in the city with nothing but a mob of house sparrows and squirrels munching away, I remind myself how lucky I am to live where I can still attract a variety of birds to my yard. I can usually count at least a dozen different species even on a slow day, and I especially enjoy seeing the migrating grosbeaks and orioles, not to mention the odd flyover of a great blue heron. But in the ten years we've been here, the variety of birds seems to have declined considerably. I'm sure some of that is due to the loss of habitat for development (vile euphemism), and some of it is due to an excess population of feral cats. Whatever the reason, some of my favorites are no longer around, so here's a little avian milk carton moment:

One old favorite I didn't see all last summer is the Eastern Kingbird. I used to see them often, perched on the electrical wire behind my house. They like to swoop up fast, snag a bug on the fly, and then settle right back to their perch. Our first few years here they were abundant, but they've grown more and more scarce, though I haven't heard about any general decline in the species.

Another AWOL bird is the Northern Bobwhite, which I used to hear constantly. They tend to stay paired up to feed, and I'd often see a couple ambling around under my deck, or at the fence line that marks the edge of our property. Not any more. I do hear them every once in a great while, but I can't remember when I last saw one. The species is known to be declining all over the country, though no one is quite sure why, probably loss of habitat.

Finally, I am very sad to have lost my Dark-Eyed Juncos. They're an extremely common winter bird here, and I seem to see them everywhere except at my house. I used to get hordes of them. They're pretty, lively and social, so they're a pleasure to watch. But a few years ago, in an attempt to discourage the house sparrows that were beating up on my bluebirds, I stopped using any grain in my feeders. That tactic diminished the sparrows slightly, but it also cost me all my Juncos and Towhees, who love millet. I went back to feeding grain and the Towhees returned, but the Juncos seem determined to shun me forever--and the sparrows have routed the bluebirds for good anyway. So much for managing nature.

Kingbird photo from Wikimedia Commons

Bobwhite photo from Wikimedia Commons

Dark-eyed Junco photo from Wikimedia Commons. See some more nice Junco photos here.


Mary said...

I see Juncos around here in the winter with their rosy little beaks.

perfumeshrine said...

What gorgeous photos...Got to love those little fellows.



chayaruchama said...

What lovely featherlings.

Sending PRAYERS to the Divine for my Kobikins, the poor dear.
You, too, kiddo.

BitterGrace said...

I think we should organize a birdwatching expedition for perfume freaks--how's that sound?

Chaya, I just dropped Kobi off about an hour ago. She was so scared. I'm a wreck. Thanks for the prayers.

Bozo said...

We have managed to keep juncos (and occasional towhees) with a mixture of sunflower seeds. I am told, though I don't know, that coyotes and turkeys are eating bobwhite eggs. It has been a wonderful winter so far-- glorious goldfinches in their muted winter colors, for instance.

BitterGrace said...

Bozo, I had not heard that about the coyotes and turkeys, but it makes perfect sense. There are so damn many of both, and they were non-existent here not so long ago.

I don't have so many goldfinches this year--it always varies--but I've got plenty of Towhees, Cardinals and Jays (I like Jays.) I dunno what's up with the Juncos. I'm beginning to think I should be taking it personally.

Anonymous said...

The Northern Bobwhite is a cool looking bird.

I like your idea about a birdwatching expedition for perfume-freaks. I'll be wearing Eau de Hummingbird Nectar. It's cheap and comes in gallon jugs. ;0

We are inundated with doves and hummingbirds this December. We get the occasional sparrow or finch type birds right now.

Happy day.


BitterGrace said...

Oh, to have winter hummingbirds, Dawn. I'm always sad to see ours leave in the fall.