Bird-watching provides delight, revelations

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Evening Grosbeak poses in a spring-blooming apple tree.

Those of us who spend a lot of time lazing on the deck/porch just watching the birds know that it is a healthy, healing non-activity that brings calmness, peace of mind and lowers the blood pressure. What I never realized was the unexpected education regarding bird-dom that I never learned in my two years of college ornithology.

I’ve reveled all though late spring and summer just watching the interplay of bird species, some of which are amazing . This is the first year I’ve been blessed with the presence of several Evening Grosbeak couples (as per the clipping above), along with several pairs of Black-headed Grosbeaks – and they are absolutely charming! It didn’t take long for me to realize that when the big Grosbeaks were feeding on the sizeable ground area I’ve provided that the huge flock of close to 100 tiny Pine Siskins would take advantage of their presence and cluster around them, scratching and eating contentedly, knowing they were protected by the much larger birds.

What’s more, the “big guys” show no malice at the crowding tiny birds and seem to accept their nearness . As they move around the grounds, each with 15 or so “acolytes” surrounding them, they strike me as an old-fashioned school teacher herding first-graders on a field trip.

Another endearing thing about the Grosbeaks – which I had recently read about in a birding magazine – is the fact that they very quickly learn to recognize and accept a daily feeder (me!) and become used to their presence. It’s true, happily, and often one or two of them will hop onto the porch as I sit there, pecking unafraid around my chair for spilled seeds. Of course, their little friends follow them everywhere, so now I have lots of little feathered friends who know and trust me. Extremely rewarding!

By the way, I’ve mentioned my two or three Pine-Jimmies and their cute, cunning ways of “stealing” sunflower seeds from the bird-feeder baskets; these little guys forage among the birds in complete harmony, joined by the resident Towhees, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Cassin’s (and other) finches and my lone Robin, who has come every year for at least 10 years (yes, I DO know him!).

And then there are the turkeys: Several small groups of 4 to 8 or so often cluster together in a great flock of as many as 40. When they show up, songbirds and squirrels scatter – not out of fear, I think, but because of their big, heavy feet. These amiable, quick-to-scare birds carry their own secrets, which I have tried to figure out. On any given day, the group trots in, red heads bright and commanding. Another day their heads will be blue. Yet another – chalk white! The red phase can be in shades of true red to pale pink, and the blue ranges from bright to pale but the whole flock carries the same shade.

At first I thought the color was due to mating or breeding season; or the weather; or a scare – and I still don’t know the answer. On the day of this writing, about 12 red-headed turkeys trouped in, followed at a slight distance by four white-headed, smaller turkeys! I had never seen a mixture before. The white-headed foursome kept their distance, but didn’t seem afraid, and the main flock showed no malice toward them. “Curiouser and curiouser”!

Anyhow, the mystery is part of the pleasure and they’re all welcome. Piqued curiosity is good for the brain and feathered company – large or small – is good for the soul!

Call me anytime from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. @ 208-265-4688. If I’m not home, leave a message; I’ll return the call.

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at or by phone at 208-265-4688.

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