by Denise Dykstra
I cannot recall a time when I did not like birds. My parents have bird feeders outside the kitchen window and my siblings and I often filled the feeders during the winter months.
My parents have an abundance of hummingbirds that hum around their porches throughout the summer. When I was grown and showing a friend who had watched me grow up around our new home, he went to his woodshop and built me a very large bird feeder. That feeder was put up outside my kitchen window and my love of bird watching began.
We moved into our new home seven years ago, when I set up bird feeders a very short time after moving in. And while I enjoyed bird watching just as I always had, the day the Baltimore Oriole showed up was a game changer.
I knew of the orioles from my parents’ home. I had had one oriole visit at the old house and I had gone to great lengths to lure it to return to my backyard. It did not return.
But when I found the Orioles here in our small town, I realized my new community was the home to a whole community of Baltimore Orioles. I quickly had bowls of grape jelly and cut up oranges anywhere I could think to put them. The raccoons also greatly appreciated my effort at spoiling the orioles and I would find overturned bowls and sticky paw prints all over my porch in the morning.
When my neighbor, Sara DeHaan, across the street moved in, the Birder Life was on.
When Sara found a Baltimore Oriole feeder that perfectly held an Aldi jar of grape jelly, she knew we both needed one. It didn’t take her husband long to realize that Sara and I were attempting to call every bright colored bird into our neighborhood, and he built her a large bird feeder to sit outside their kitchen window.
I bought dehydrated worms to lure new birds to our homes. People, if I am buying dehydrated worms, I have bird fever very badly. Who buys dehydrated worms and gets really excited about them? Me, apparently. I changed the ring tone on my phone to the sound of birds chirping for Sara’s calls and texts.
And did we ever text.
Because our houses are positioned directly across the street from each other, we couldn’t help but begin letting each other know what bird was at our feeder. We could hardly contain our excitement as we watched the Baltimore Orioles fly from house to house, visiting each of our feeders.
My reaction to bright birds is so common the boys don’t even ask what I am up to. They’ll meander into the kitchen for more food. There, they will find their mama, frozen in place, staring out the window. “The Orioles are eating,” I’ll whisper to them. They roll their eyes and head for the fridge.
But, these same boys who mock their mama and her neighbor friend with all our bird watching texts and videos and shushing, these boys are the ones who send me videos of birds from the windows if I am not home. And for any gift giving time, they know the gift that I am going to use immediately and daily is another bird feeder.
While my enjoyment of watching birds has been ongoing throughout my life, it is not something I ever tire of nor plan to move on from. On days when I most need finding some joy, it never fails that I’ll watch the birds eating, spilling and fighting over the birdseed, jelly or sugar water outside my window and my heart will feel buoyed again.
My neighbor, Sara, has Merlin, the free bird documenting app, on her phone. From this app and her large feeder outside her dining room window, their young son can name off six or so birds just from their bird song identification. She also is a talented photographer who takes amazing photos of the birds at her feeder. The bird photos you see in this post are from her.
There is a whole list of speciality bird watching coined words that I have recently learned about. So I have to ask….
• A dude (doesn’t know too much about birds)
• A twitcher (someone obsessed with growing a life long list of birds they have seen)
• Or a birder (somewhere between a twitcher and a dude)
• Or do you not find enjoyment in watching birds (I cannot fathom!)? Share your bird stories with me!
An Oriole camped out at our picture window and chattered with my wife for some time several years ago. We’ve been hooked ever since. Game changer indeed.
Isn’t it? I love how the orioles sound talking to each other too!!
20 years ago if someone told me I would be watching birds and rodents I would have told them they were crazy. Lo and behold now I spend much of my time doing the same. Two four legged tree climbers can cause lots of entertainment. I leave small amounts of paper out that they use for nests. Go figure??
But it’s SO FUN. I was drinking my coffee and watching some sparrows today and I swear one pushed the other off an outdoor bench. I laughed and laughed.
I had a oriole last year sit on top of a orange globe that my wife put on top of our hammock post, and that was the only one I seen , but I did have a cedar waxwing hanging around for a couple of weeks, I like that oriole feeder of yours I’ll have to invest in one.
My son got the Oriole feeder at Family Farm and Home in Wayland. It’s so easy and so nice to use! Isn’t it fun seeing all the bird varieties?
Denise, Thanks I was wondering where to find one. Do you know if they stay around all year?
Gar, They must be around all year but I rarely see them from June on. I keep a feeder out for them (I currently have three feeders out for them) just in case. In May I have had six at a feeder and by June I see them less and less. I hope you get them! They are so bright and beautiful and they have such a distinct sound!
We live in the middle of Grand Rapids. There’s a tiny drainage pond to control excess rain water, and we’ve had the good fortune of seeing a pair of mallards settle in and rear some ducklings every year. We also get visits from turkeys from time to time. Plus the usual suspects. Now and then we see some sort of raptor lurking, and the songbirds get scarce for a couple of days. I whistle sometimes to the cardinals (Claudia & His Eminence), and although I have little talent at this sort of mimicry, they are invariably polite and always answer back.
Basura, Don’t you love when they answer back? It’s so fun! Sara, my neighbor, is convinced she can get a bird to eat out of her hand this year. I hope she does! The cardinal’s names – I love it!
Thanks, Denise. My guess is the bird most likely to eat our of one’s hand is the chickadee. Those tiny birds are so bold! Maybe blue jays too; they’re bold too, but not so tiny, as you well know. Yes, I love it that the cardinals answer back to feeble attempts to greet them. Sometimes they will fly over and perch on tree nearer. They seem to like the tops of trees.
There is an eagle’s nest about a 1/2 mile from our house! It’s now active again!
When feeding orioles grape jelly, please be sure to purchase jelly made with sugar. Jelly that is made with high fructose corn syrup is harmful to the birds.
I was coaching soccer. The kids were 3rd and 4th graders. At the time, I was working with the courts. Working with children helped me to view humanity in more generous terms that my day to day working life.
One memorable afternoon we were running a scrimmage, when suddenly we heard some persistent loud noises. There were seemingly many voices. We thought it was a group of dogs running together, barking to one another. None were in view.
One of the kids said, “Look! Look!” It was one of the three girls on our team. She was pointing up. To everyone’s surprise, it was a flock of Canada geese, flying in formation high above our field. The ball sat still for a bit as we all looked skyward. The geese were making a lot of noise. It really did sound like barking.
It was early in the fall, and I think these birds were out on a conditioning exercise. They circled around some, and dropped a little lower, as if they were checking out a flock of kids wearing shin pads. Then they went on their way. We had a few laughs about confusing a flock of honking geese with a pack of barking dogs.
OK, Denise, you asked for bird stories. Here’s another: excerpted from a piece I wrote that seemed a bit long for TB.
Frigate birds are large black and white sea birds. (I was on a trip to see & swim with whale sharks) Our boatmen knew to look skyward for the frigate birds, which tend to glide in circles over the whale sharks. The sharks attract small fish; the little fish seem to understand that a big shark is like a moving reef. The frigate birds know that there will be small fish where there are whale sharks. The frigate birds attract the snorkelers that wanted to swim with the whale sharks. The complex food chain starts with the krill and plankton, attracting the whale sharks, attracting the little fish, attracting the frigate birds, attracting the excursion boats. I’d previously seen frigate birds from time to time, and now and again they would see them dive into the water for lunch. In Akumal (Mayan for place of turtles) I once saw six frigate birds glide along the coast line at water’s edge. I watched them for 25 minutes. The only time I saw any wing flapping was after one had plunged into the water. The birds had to flap to regain altitude to continue gliding on thermal updraft air currents. There is a sharply angled V at the joint of the wing at the bird’s equivalent of an elbow. Fishermen usually return in late afternoon. The birds and – at least one smart barracuda – learned it is likely that there will be fish cleaned, and bait dumped, when the boats come in.