Thursday, May 22, 2008

Biobigotry in my Back Yard

Yes, I admit it. I am a Bio Bigot when it comes to birds.

I became interested in birdwatching when I was about 9 years old and we moved to Penfield, New York, in the rural suburbs of Rochester, from Nutley, New Jersey. In our town of Penfield we lived at the edge of a cul-de-sac that bordered a stream (always called "The Creek") and a wooded area that led, after a mile or so of woods, into a park.

Because of the location, we were able to see many unsual birds. During the migratory season we had many different kinds of warblers passing through, as well as some full-time residents that were uncommon (such as Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks). My mother and I went on many birdwatching expeditions in the little woods with our binoculars, and I took to drawing and coloring in pictures of the birds. My mother put them in a booklet and submitted the drawings to an Audobon contest. I actually won a prize - a week at an Audubon day camp in the area!

Each spring was heralded by the arrival, not of Robins (they were actually latecomers in that northern area), but of the Redwinged Blackbird. These blackbirds arrived on schedule at around the beginning of March - perching at the top of our little maple tree and announcing their arrival with a joyous bubbly call. And the little Goldfinches, which did winter over up there, turned a neon yellow as the Spring arrived.

As a result of this experience, I got spoiled. We saw so many "good" birds up there, that I expected to continue the experience wherever I lived.

When DH and I moved into our house, we started feeding the birds. But being in a very urban area of suburbia, we don't get the "good" birds. We get city birds. Oh yes, we do have Cardinals, and they do count as "good." But they are relatively common as well. We have English Sparrows, a few Juncoes, Chickadees, Mockingbirds, some Nuthatches and an occasional common type of woodpecker. Oh, and Blue Jays. Once in a blue moon a "good" bird will pass through but it isn't usual.

As a result, I realize I have become a "biobigot." When a "good" bird does arrive in our yard, it is an Event. And if something happens to that bird, I am bereft.

My neighbor has cats - lots of cats. I am a huge cat lover so I don't usually worry about them wandering into our yard. But a few years ago, my whole family underwent the traumatic experience of seeing one of them grab a baby Cardinal. Of course it had to be a Cardinal, not a sparrow.

The father Cardinal was helping to teach the baby to fly, and the little one was flying all over our back yard while we sat out having a barbecue. All of a sudden, the baby bird lost its bearings and flew right into the back of our neighbor's garage and fell to the earth like a stone - RIGHT in front of a waiting cat that had been hiding in the bushes. It was like manna from heaven, as far as the cat was concerned. It immediately pounced, grabbed the bird and ran off, with the father Cardinal - and me - chasing it. Our efforts were to no avail. The father bird spent the rest of the day flitting around in the bushes calling desperately for the baby. It was so sad. But would we have been as sad if it was "just" an English Sparrow?

The reason I bring this up today, is that we have a Good Bird living in our yard; in fact, two of them. They are wrens, and they have taken up residence in an old bird house we had hung on my neighbor's garage years ago. No bird has ever bothered to use it - until now.

The other day I heard the sound of an unfamiliar bird song in our yard, and finally was able to see it through the binoculars and identified it as a wren, a common House Wren, to be sure, but still unusual for OUR yard. It was flitting in and out of the bird house. Then yesterday, after three days of singing, the wren apparently attracted a lady of his same subspecies! So there are now two of them.

But they not only sit up in the tree and sing, they also flutter around temptingly on the ground in the bushes. I don't know what they do there - catch bugs? Pick up twigs for the nest? - but it doesn't seem wise. All those cats are just waiting. Luckily we have a fence between the neighbor's yard and ours, but of course the birds don't realize the situation and could just as easily start flitting about in the neighbor's bushes.

So now I worry. Every day I get up and listen carefully to make sure I still hear that wren's song. If I don't hear it one day I will be neurotic and worry that the cats have had their way with the wrens.

It just doesn't pay to get emotionally invested in wildlife. I know this. But nevertheless, I worry.

If I just didn't care whether a bird was "good" or "ordinary," it wouldn't be as worrisome. But I can't help it, biobigot that I am!

(Here is a picture stolen from the Internet that shows a wren on top of a bird house very similar to ours:)


kid said...

I didn't know New Jersey had palm trees.Just kidding , thanks for visiting. Maybe next time you come over I'll have something to make you laugh and cheer you up, later.

Randal Graves said...

The natural world is full of nothing but beauty and death, but some of us can't help feeling bummed out when we see something like that, or an obviously juvenile animal lying dead in the road.

Where I work, the wall behind me is one large window, and now and then a sparrow or other small bird will slam into it at full speed. Wish they wouldn't.

Anonymous said...

What a great birding post!

I'd be worrying about the wrens, too. I got such a thrill when we had one who visited here last autumn.

Fran said...

I love this post - it is amazing. The cardinal story got me in the heart.

And how I love the wrens!

Cosa Nostradamus said...

Palm Trees of New Jersey

bird of paradise

big bird

Gryphen said...

Hey Mauigirl!

I just added you to my blogroll (Totally should have done that before btw).

I like your blog. I will make a point to visit more often.

Take care.

enigma4ever said...

great post...wonderful...I love Birding posts...what a treat....( cats probally liked it too....)

dguzman said...

Oh Maui--I really don't make it over here often enough. What a wonderful post--it's always so neat to see others who have the same birdy interests as I do. And remember--English or house sparrows are a non-native species. It's not their fault that they're here (an idiot brought them, along with starlings et al.), but they're pests all the same. I would never kill one (as some people do, to get them out of bluebird houses), but I cheer when a predator eats one. Guess I'm a biobigot too!

What a sad story about the baby cardinal--it breaks my little birdy heart. I once saw an adult bluejay peck a baby bluejay to death, and I've never been able to look at them without remembering that day. Nature is just hard sometimes. Beautiful and hard, as Randal says.

I have only seen Carolina wrens; you're so lucky to have house wrens nesting!

Sorry this comment is so long!

Christopher said...


We live in Penfield, NY.

What a small world! It's absolutely beautiful here. Not rural now but I've never seen so many type of trees and yes, birds (at least in spring, summer and fall) are everywhere.

Were it not for the winters, I would like to stay here. It's affordable, convenient and simply lovely.

Distributorcap said...

how can one not get addicted to wildlife -- -and domestic

i think the only birds in manhattan are pigeons...... and they arent lovely....

Mauigirl said...

Kid, thanks, you already have cheered me up! Great site you have.

Randal, it's true, it's all part of nature, but often hard to take.... I agree, it's terrible when birds crash into the window; that used to happen sometimes in my old house, which had a picture window in the back.

DCup, glad you liked it...This is only the second time I've ever seen a wren; I remember once seeing one at my Great Aunt Marge's house in Massachusetts when I was a kid!

Fran, I know - the cardinal - what a sad thing that was. For a long time I couldn't even think about it without getting upset!

Cosa, three links to explore! Thanks!

Gryphen, thanks so much for blogrolling me! I'm so glad you enjoy my blog! It is mutual!

Thanks Enigma - I'm sure Baxter would have some thoughts about the wrens...

DGuzman, thanks, I'm so glad you liked it - I really want to get back into my birdwatching again. We recently got new binoculars and they work great, so that gives me some incentive. I know, English Sparrows and Starlings - what were people thinking to bring them here? But I can't help but admire the pluck of the English Sparrows. They are literally everywhere in the world. Very adaptable little birds! So sad about the Blue Jay killing the baby...something you just can't forget, just like the cat killing the baby Cardinal.

Christopher, I'd always noticed that about your profile, that you lived in Penfield! I'd been meaning to mention it before! We used to live on Shirewood Drive, in the Burrows Hills tract, which was off of Penfield Road. I loved it there, it was a great place to live when I was a kid (age 9-14). I was really sad when we moved back to New Jersey - my father got a job back there and off we went. I am still friends with my best friend from 8th grade from Penfield. She lives in Webster now - we haven't actually seen each other in 24 years but are in touch.

DCap - yes, New York has pigeons - but aren't there also that pair of hawks nesting up in the skyscraper someplace? And of course, English Sparrows!

D.K. Raed said...

well you know I've got nesting hummers & robins & quail now. A couple of mallards have taken up residence in a little manmade pond up the road. I don't know why. It's all chlorinated & algacided. But they sure gave my old dogs a thrill, good thing they are leashed for walks.

When I lived in San Diego a few yrs ago, it was bird paradise. You name it, even eagles, and we had them. It was a very sad day there when my own cat brought 2 baby hummers inside to show off her kill. I had previously saved gnatcatchers & mourning doves that my cats had brought down, but not killed. These little hummers were actually dead, no restoration possible. Very sad.

Mauigirl said...

D.K., how wonderful to have such interesting birds! I get so excited to see a hummingbird...I think we had them occasionally in Penfield, and I've seen them at that Audubon camp I went to and also in San Francisco. I'm so sorry your cat brought you dead hummingbirds...she was bringing you a gift and just didn't know how you would feel about it!

We have lots of mallard ducks in our local park - they seem to thrive there - even though I'm sure the stream isn't exactly pristine. I guess mallards aren't too fussy! There is even one nesting in the middle of one of our main streets, on a traffic island!

Unknown said...

I used to have quite a few, uh, city birds visiting my yard. Now that Alex cats around the yard so much, I’ve seen few birds. I wonder if there is a relationship be Alex being outside and the birds not being around?

Mauigirl said...

Nick, it could be that the birds are smart and know he's there. I think they usually get wise after awhile. I think if he were actually catching them, he'd be bringing them as little presents to you and laying them on the doorstep!

Dorothy said...

Our home has beautiful trees, foliage and birds everywhere..

I sometimes sit in my chair next to the sliding glass door and marvel at the sounds they make. Gives me peace in the moment.

My best,
Dorothy from grammology
remember to call your grandma

denverdoc said...

Biobigot, good word, yours?

I too get all excited over the unusual (cooper's hawk flying over the neighborhood, wild turkeys crossing the road on recent trip to South Dakota) but feel ever so ho-hum over the resident robins and usual crows.

Mauigirl said...

Dorothy, that's great you have so many birds in your yard. It sounds like our old house in Penfield!

Femaildoc, no, I can't take credit for it, got the word from an article in the NY Times. I've never seen a Cooper's Hawk although we do get the Redtailed ones here a lot.