I have been a bird watcher, or birder as they now call it, since the 1970′s. I pulled out my “life list” the other day, a list that names every kind of bird that I’ve ever seen and positively been able to identify. I need to make a half dozen additions to the list, but the list stood at 128 birds. That’s not bad, but real serious birders have seen 300 or more.
I carry my Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region edition, any time I go on a hike. At this stage of my life, most all my hikes are in New Jersey or West Virginia, my two homes. But having lived in coastal southern California, Oregon, Montana, Florida, and the Virgin Islands gave me the opportunity to see birds not seen here in the mid-atlantic United States.
It may sound ridiculous, but I do have favorite birds. And birds I frankly don’t care for. Is that weird? Here are my favorite tree and ground birds. I’ll save marsh and water birds for another time.
My favorite bird is the black-capped chickadee. No matter how cold the winter, he cheerily comes to your feeder. When it was 30 degrees below zero in Maine, the black-capped chickadee could be counted on to be at the feeder at first light and check in all day long.
My best camouflaged bird award goes to the dark-eyed junco. From above, an airborne predator has a hard time distinguishing his black upper body and black eyes. From below, the dark-eyed junco in flight has an-off white underside that blends well with the sky.
Several birds capture the honors for prettiest bird. I love the brilliant red male cardinals; the summer yellow and black plumage of an American goldfinch; the same yellow and black of the larger evening grosbeak; the red, white and black of a rose-breasted grosbeak; and the black spotted red-orange and gray of an American kestrel.
Most distinguished looking bird is a two way tie. I love the stately look of the cedar waxwing, the black mask across his eyes oozing class. I’m also partial to the tufted titmouse. This little guy stands so upright, as if he’s gone to finishing school. His white breast is the white tuxedo shirt, his gray back the tuxedo with tails, and his tuft is the latest hair fashion.
Now the flip side. I hate starlings. These boogers were introduced from Europe in 1890. About 100 were released in Central Park. Now there’s hundreds of millions crowding out our native birds. Go home!
They pal around with grackles, the “darth vader” of the bird feeder. Together, along with a few red-winged blackbirds, these three species congregate in gangs of 300 or more. They are jerks, cleaning out a day’s worth of bird seeds in a matter of minutes. Then the mellow birds I enjoy watching have to look elsewhere.
Ugliest bird you gotta love goes to the turkey vulture. They have that hairless, wrinkled, red-skin head. But to watch a dozen sitting on a fence after a rainstorm airing out their wings is a sight to see. It is a thing of beauty.
The scaredy cat award goes to the mourning dove. Step out the door, they freak out and fly frantically for their lives. Walk in front of a window, they go nuts. I’m surprised they’re not afraid of the sunrise.
Two more birds are on my favorite list. I like them equally, though Ben Franklin would take issue with me. Bring on the bald eagle and wild turkey. Hand in hand they represent Americana and our proud way of life.
- Mountain Man