Mind your birding manners

Hawk nest

A hawk keeps a close eye on its chicks. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Aug. 17, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Mind your manners to reduce bird stress.”

By Barb Gorges

I’m sure your parents taught you, as mine did me, that it is impolite to stare.

Does this rule apply, in some way, to birds? After all, the point of birdwatching is to watch them.

Know that whenever you enter a bird’s environment, it can bother a bird. For instance, even when you are on the other side of a window, it may react to your presence.

I recently heard an anecdote about a hawk nest so close to a public road that it was well-known. Birdwatchers regularly showed up to watch and photograph the chicks as they grew.

What these folks apparently missed was that the parents were agitated. The presence of the birdwatchers bothered them. The situation could easily have caused the parents to abandon the chicks. And even though it apparently didn’t, stress on the birds could cause some unintended consequences down the road—just as it does for people.

There is a new field guide that came out this spring, one that offers something a bit different from the rest.

The New Birder’s Field Guide to Birds of North America, by Bill Thompson III, is recommended if you are a casual backyard birdwatcher who wants to know more.

It explains the hobby of birdwatching, why it’s fun, to how to get into it, what to wear to be comfortable, how to adjust binoculars. What follows is a page per species with helpful information for identifying each one.

But one brief chapter bears on this column’s subject, titiled “Birding Manners.”

Some of it pertains to birding with others: keep your voice down, treat others as you’d like to be treated, stay with the group, share the spotting scope, help beginners, pish in moderation.

What is pishing? It’s an attempt to get a better look at a bird by getting it to come out of the vegetation by making a noise that sounds like “pish,” which happens to sound like a bird alarm call. The birds come out to see what’s wrong. Playing recorded bird songs to attract a bird that thinks he’s hearing a rival is another method to bring it out of hiding.

As Thompson asks new birders to use these techniques in moderation, he explains, “We owe it to the birds we love so much to respect their privacy.”

This is the beginning birdwatcher’s version of the American Birding Association’s Birding Code of Ethics. The part that pertains to the nesting hawks situation reads:

“1(b) To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming….

“Keep well back from nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites. In such sensitive areas, if there is a need for extended observation, photography, filming, or recording, try to use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover.”

If the ABA members, vying to see as many bird species as possible, can restrain themselves, I think the rest of us can as well.

Given today’s optics and cameras, it might have been quite possible to observe the activity in the hawk nest from a less intimidating distance, since building a blind on the side of a public road probably isn’t feasible. Contacting the landowner for permission to erect a temporary blind might have been a solution.

But on the other hand, if we are observing the hawks for our own enjoyment and not as a part of scientific study, two minutes from inside our car would be quite enough, rather than hour after hour, day after day. Try to make part of your enjoyment of birds knowing that your actions haven’t endangered or distressed them.

There is so much interesting bird behavior to watch unobserved by the birds if you walk carefully and stop and stand still often, being the proverbial fly on the wall. If you don’t make noise or make sudden movements, birds in the bushes will continue to flit about feeding. If you sit as still as a rock at the shore, the shorebirds may pass close by.

And should a bird look you in the eye, acknowledge it as you would a person, with a nod.

And then look away, so it can continue with its important business of living.

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Generosity of other birders improves travel experience

eagles

Young Bald Eagles fight over fish in Sitka, Alaska. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Aug. 18, 2013, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Generosity of other birders improves travel experience.”

2014 Update: If you didn’t make it to Alaska this summer, start planning for next year. Go to http://www.eBird.org to research bird checklists, hotspots and recent sightings at your travel destination.

By Barb Gorges

Mark and I have yet to hire a birding guide or join an organized bird trip in our travels, but someday we may have to if we travel somewhere with unfamiliar birds.

Meanwhile, we find birding hotspots by using www.eBird.org. But then there is also the generosity of local birders.

Mid-July, Mark and I were walking the trails at the Sitka National Historical Park in Sitka, Alaska, overwhelmed by the sounds of small birds high in the rainforest canopy. We knew the singing was thrushes, but even though we’d gone online the night before to listen to the three possibilities, varied (definitely different), hermit and Swainson’s, our audio memory wasn’t very good.

This was supposed to be a vacation so I was trying to just let it go. I can’t reliably sort out Swainson’s and hermits by sight in my own backyard during migration, where they never sing, much less these invisible birds.

But enter Lucy. When you are wearing binoculars, it is not considered rude to walk up to a total stranger also wearing binoculars and ask “What are you seeing?”

Some birders, I have heard, are curmudgeons, but not this woman. We chatted more than 5 minutes before she invited us to come with her to an opening in the bushes along the shore where she’d seen four species of gulls the day before.

Lucy also explained an easy way to identify the singing thrushes: the Swainson’s fluting song spirals up and the hermit’s makes a little rise before spiraling down.

We were surprised any birds were still singing in mid-July, still advertising for mates and establishing territories. I later read that the Alaska Natives call the thrushes “salmonberry birds” because they sing at the time of year salmonberries are ripe.

They are right about that. Sitka’s brambles were full of these raspberry-type berries, either a deep gold or a deep red when ripe. Mark’s brother, Peter, who lives in Sitka, pointed them out. They are kind of seedy so the best way to eat them is to pop one in your mouth, smash it with your tongue to get the juice and then swallow it whole. It was hard to concentrate on birding with so many berries to pick. Luckily, no bears were competing with us.

Lucy still had to get to work that morning so we bid adieu.

The next day we stopped by the Fishermen’s Eye Gallery where she works and gave her an update on the birds we’d seen, including nine young bald eagles checking out the first returning salmon of the season and glaucous-winged, mew and Bonaparte’s gulls.

We were very lucky to meet Lucy, a local, who has led bird tours in the past.

Sooty Grouse

Sooty Grouse seen on Mount Roberts, above Juneau, Alaska. Photo by Barb Gorges

In Juneau, it was a fellow traveler who alerted us to birds. We took the tram up Mount Roberts, hoping to see ptarmigan on the trail at the top. Instead, we got an unsolicited heads-up on a family of sooty grouse (formerly spruce grouse) from a man wearing all black—and binoculars.

At Mendenhall Glacier, we struck up a conversation with another man with binoculars. He said we should talk to his buddy, a “real birder,” an energetic, white-haired man who spent half our conversation promoting birding his own neighborhood and encouraged us to call him if we ever travel to Point Reyes National Seashore in California.

We watched for seabirds from the Alaska Marine Highway—the ferry—from Sitka to Skagway and all the way back to Bellingham, Wash., and from all our stops in between, but had better luck identifying whales. The fast-winging black dots remained inscrutable. They might be worth a guided trip.

One of the crew members did point out the flock of pink, plastic flamingos perched in a tree on Highwater Island, near Sitka.

These migrate from China, he said, by way of the U.S. Coast Guard’s training center.

 

 

Colorado’s Black Swift wintering grounds found in Brazil

Black Swft

Black Swift nestling on nest. Photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.

Published Aug. 26, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Colorado black swift wintering grounds are found in Brazil. Future research may lead to new Wyoming records.”

2014 Update: For the latest on Black Swift research, go to the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, www.rmbo.org, and enter “Black Swift” in the search box.

By Barb Gorges

Imagine that in 2009 there was still one bird species whose wintering location was still unknown. And imagine that for that same bird species, few of its nesting colonies had even been found until the late 1990s.

Let me introduce the black swift, the North American subspecies (not that the southern subspecies is better known).

At 7.5 inches long, the black swift is longer than our local chimney swift by 2 inches and its wingspan is an 18-inch curve. Swifts are perpetual bug-eating flying machines that might be mistaken for swallows but look more like flying cigars with wings.

The first black swift was documented in 1857 on Puget Sound in Washington State, and the first nests in 1901 in California sea caves where ocean spray kept them moist. By 1919, intrepid egg collectors found their nests behind mountain waterfalls.

In the 1950s, Owen A. Knorr made the black swift his master’s thesis at Colorado University in Boulder, making a concerted effort to look for nests in Colorado by learning mountain climbing skills and developing a system for predicting which waterfalls would be nest locations. He found 25 colonies, each with a handful of mossy nests stuck to tiny rocky ledges, each one holding one nestling.

In 1997, Kim Potter was one of two biologists beginning a new swift search. A year later, Rich Levad got hooked on looking for them and joined her in organizing surveys through the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, infecting others with swift enthusiasm along the way.

I met Levad and Potter in 2005 when Wyoming Audubon members helped them find flammulated owls in Wyoming’s Sierra Madre range. Already one year into a diagnosis of Lou Gehring’s disease, Levad was soldiering on impressively.

When he had to cut back on field work, Levad started writing “The Coolest Bird, A Natural History of the Black Swift and Those Who Have Pursued It,” still making edits the day before his death in 2008. You can find the 152-page, free edition provided by the American Birding Association online at www.aba.org/thecoolestbird.pdf.

It’s a great read about an exciting bird and many memorable characters—check out the scathing exchange between Knorr and a dignitary in Arizona who believed a bird species only existed if he could hold the collected specimen, the dead body, in other words.

I spoke recently with one of Levad’s protégés, Jason Beason, director of special projects at the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and lead author of an article about a black swift breakthrough published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology this past March, about finally discovering the black swift’s wintering grounds.

Black Swift

Black Swift nestling on nest. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Every August, black swift adults leave each morning to collect food and later, at twilight, they slip back to feed the young. This is when researchers hope to see them.

Levad learned that training field observers increased their abilities to find swifts, upping known Colorado colonies from 27, including Knorr’s found in the 1950s, to 86, but it wasn’t until mist netting was tried in a couple of narrow canyons that it became apparent how many swifts were eluding detection.

Banding the captured swifts and recapturing many of them the following years showed how loyal they are to nest sites.

Beason, Potter, and another of the paper’s authors, Carolyn Gunn, wanted to strap recorders on the birds to find out where they go in winter, but most equipment is designed to attach to a bird’s leg and swifts hardly have a leg. They never walk. If they land at all, they cling to vertical surfaces. It’s thought that for some swift species, non-breeders stay aloft for a year or two.

Enter the British Antarctic Survey, which had developed a micro geolocator that works off day length to determine location and archives the data every 10 minutes for a year. One was strapped on the back of each of four black swifts about to leave Colorado September 2009.

Beason and his team were able to recapture three of the four swifts in the fall of 2010 and download and process the data. If you want the technical description and don’t subscribe to the Wilson Journal, email Beason, jason.beason@rmbo.org, for the digital manuscript.

Beyond doubt, at least these black swifts, from two colonies in Colorado, winter in the Amazon basin of western Brazil. Next summer, Beason plans to outfit a few swifts from Idaho to see if they winter there, too.

There are also a few other documented black swift colonies in the West, including Montana and Utah, and of course, the gazillion in Colorado, but none in Wyoming, probably “just because nobody’s gotten out and looked up there,” Jason told me.

So I asked him how we could help, thinking of that flammulated owl survey, but also realizing that few of those same people are capable of climbing up to waterfalls off the beaten track, much less hiking out in the dark after the swifts come home.

Beason said to let him know of any small grants he could apply for. It wouldn’t take much, maybe $1000, to add a stop next summer on his way to Idaho, to check out where Knorr thought he once saw a black swift flying at Grand Teton National Park. Grants, schmantz. I have a better idea: crowd sourcing, or the Tinkerbelle solution. If all of us made a small contribution, we might add a breeding bird species to the Wyoming records.

To support next summer’s survey, please send contributions by the end of January 2013 to: The Richard Levad Memorial Fund (earmarked for Wyoming Black Swift Research), Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, P. O. Box 1232, Brighton, CO 80601-1232.

If you contribute online at www.rmbo.org, click on the “Chip in” button on the home page and then, in the first step’s drop-down menu, choose the “Other” option. Or call Rachel, 303-659-4348, ext. 17, during business hours.

Why glass windows kill birds and how to prevent it

Bird Safe manual

Audubon Minnesota’s Bird Safe Building Guidelines manual is available free online.

Published Aug. 7, 2011, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Killer kitchen window adds to national bird death toll.”

2014 Update: Check Audubon Minnesota’s website for more information about their Bird Safe program: http://mn.audubon.org/project-birdsafe.

By Barb Gorges

It became an almost daily occurrence this past May: a soft thump on the glass as another visitor to our backyard and bird feeders hit the kitchen window.

I tried putting up big stripes of blue painter’s tape and that helped a little. Mainly, we needed to remember to check the yard for dazed birds before letting our bird dog out. Luckily, the couple we saw her take seemed to be the only window fatalities—that we knew about.

Migration seemed to be over after the first week in June. With just the regulars now, including the house finch with the white head and her friends, there have been no more collisions.

It’s the visiting birds, 25 other species in our yard, mostly during spring migration and not so much in the fall, which get confused by a window that reflects the trees. At least with the feeders within only feet of the window, they didn’t have a lot of momentum when they hit. But it wasn’t always feeder birds, and it wasn’t always that window. In fact, it is windows everywhere.

Audubon Minnesota, a state office of the National Audubon Society, came out with a booklet available online for free, Bird-Safe Building Guidelines, that explains the problem and solutions at the architectural level. Go to www.mn.audubon.org, where there is a link to the 40-page pdf, or put the booklet title in the website’s search window.

People love buildings with lots of natural light. If they are well-insulated, windows can save energy on lighting. But those glass-sided high-rises, and even residential windows, are calculated to kill hundreds of millions of birds per year in the U.S. Spring and fall migration are the most problematic times of year.

Anything that breaks up the glass expanse, like my painter’s tape (engineered to peel off easily), or screening, helps. It has to be applied to the outside surface, though. Waiting to clean the dust off the outside of your windows until after migration might help, too, as can drawing drapes and shades to prevent birds from seeing straight through your house to a window on the other side.

Scaring the birds away with items hanging in front of the window, things that move in the breeze, like flagging, or that move and shine, like old CDs, might do the trick.

At the architectural level, Bird-Safe Building Guidelines discusses ideas for new buildings and retrofitted buildings: netting, fritted glass, films applied to glass, etched glass designs, glass sloping to reflect the ground, taking into account proximity to habitat and feeding sites, and special glass making use of birds’ ability to see ultraviolet patterns we can’t. Problems occur mostly at the ground level and first few stories of buildings.

Then there is the problem of lit up buildings attracting night-flying migrants, especially during bad weather, and all the ill effects of light pollution in general. Turning off interior building lights at night saves money and birds, and so does making sure outdoor lights are not needlessly lighting the sky.

Our killer kitchen window, a six-foot wide replacement with sliding halves, currently is only half screened. The track is still there for the full screen, so we should order one and put it in place from early April to mid-June. All of the glass will be less reflective then and birds still colliding may bounce off the screen.

But next spring, before we let Sally out, we’ll check the area below the window for dazed birds. No need to increase the dog’s “life list.”

Complacency may muddle bird i.d.

American Redstart

American Redstart. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Painted Redstart

Painted Redstart. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Published Aug. 15, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Bird IDs can be tricky, so a photo is always welcome.”

2014 Update: Telling similar species apart is difficult no matter where you are.

By Barb Gorges

Spring and early summer are when I get the most bird calls, questions about woodpecker damage, inconvenient robins’ nests, but mostly bird identification.

Unless they can email me a defining photo, I usually give callers a few possibilities to look up and let them decide for themselves.

For instance, in spring Cheyenne regularly gets six species with dark or black heads, backs and wings and orange breasts, the most obvious being American robin, what we compare everything to.

The others are orchard oriole [long skinny beak, white wing bars], Bullock’s oriole [long skinny beak, yellow to orange face, white wing patches], black-headed grosbeak [huge conical beak, white wing spots], spotted towhee [large sparrow with orange sides, white belly and white wing spots], and the American redstart [small with white belly, orangey-red patches on sides, tail and wings].

In early May a friend mentioned having a flock of painted redstarts at her house. Was she misnaming American redstarts? She insisted on painted redstart.

At home I looked both up. They are both small (American is 5.25 inches and the painted is 5.75 inches) black-headed birds with red markings. The American has a white belly and red patches on its black wings and tail. The painted has a red belly and white patches on its black wings and tail. I saw it once in 1996 in southeastern Arizona.

There are no documented records for painteds in Wyoming as of 2008. Sibley’s shows them in Arizona and New Mexico, in oak and pine canyons, with records of sightings in north-central Colorado.

There are two possible scenarios here. One is familiarity breeds complacency on my friend’s part. She may have spent some time in the Southwest where she identified painted redstarts. When a similar bird showed up in her yard in Cheyenne, she assumed it was a species she knew and loved seeing previously. Who needs to look closely and look it up in the field guide again?

Me. I’ve been known to look through binoculars to enjoy common birds 15 feet outside my window, but I wouldn’t expect everyone does that, so a general impression of small bird flashing black, white and red could remain misidentified, causing no harm until the observer talks about it to someone with too many field guides, like me.

The second scenario is familiarity breeding complacency on my part. Although I see maybe one American redstart every other spring, I page past the entry every time I look up other warblers in my field guide. The Cheyenne bird checklist (compiled by more knowledgeable people than me) says they are uncommon migrants. They normally hang out around riparian (stream) areas.

Have there been lost painted or American redstarts out on the prairie before and no one to recognize them?

There is of course, a third scenario. The bird in question is not a redstart at all.

The future scenario I’d like is my friend gets a close look at and takes a photo of her visiting birds, double-checks her field guide, and based on her previous familiarity, is quite convinced she sees painted redstarts—and based on the species range map in her field guide, she realizes it is a rare species for Wyoming.

Next, she convinces the Wyoming Bird Records Committee she had painted redstarts. It’s a challenge. Observer credibility is as essential as good digital photos.

How does she get credibility? She becomes an active part of the birding community. By joining other birders on field trips, they will get a feel for her birding ability, and her ability to say, “Gosh, I guess that cerulean warbler was something else,” which is what one of Wyoming’s best birders said last month after some additional study.

There are advantages to birding with others. If everyone can see the same rare bird at the same time, they can confirm the identification. The records committee likes those kinds of reports, especially if a detailed description of the bird’s look and behavior is submitted, along with justification for not identifying it as a similar species.

The field guide is sort of a birder’s Bible, but with one main difference: the birds don’t read it. They have wings and travel intentionally, looking for new habitat, or unintentionally, caught by wind. The range maps are just a measure of likelihood.

Birdwatching as a hobby shares something with gambling and fishing. We go out hoping for the next big thing, the next rare bird, even while we enjoy all the other birds we see.

So, next time painted redstarts show up, take a photo and then give me a call and I’ll be right out.

AOU dictates new bird names and relationships

AOU logoPublished Aug. 8, 2010, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “New order, new names and new species of birds dictated by AOU.”

2014 Update: The American Ornithologists’ Union continues to make changes.

By Barb Gorges

The American Ornithologists’ Union has come out with the 10th supplement to the seventh edition (1998) of the Check-list of North American Birds which means you can start penciling in changes in your current field guide or buy a new edition next year.

It can also mean that, like one subscriber to the Wyobirds e-list, you may be able to add two species to your life list without even looking out the window.

In the AOU’s first days in 1883, birds were classified by appearance and habit. With study, a fine distinction could be made between similar birds that together never produced fertile young–separate species–and similar birds that were variations within a species.

Similar species were grouped into a genus and similar genera were grouped into a family. It all made sense to birdwatchers in the field.

Then, as we became more globally aware, we tried to align the common and scientific names of birds with their counterparts overseas, thus, our “sparrow hawk” became the “American Kestrel” some years ago.

Now DNA testing has come into common use, and ornithologists are making discoveries and adjustments regularly to reflect the evolutionary relationship of species to each other.

The latest changes are documented in The Auk, the AOU’s journal, and they are meaningless to the casual birder who may have, like me, not learned the scientific bird names in Latin.

However, the American Birding Association has done somewhat of a translation that shows a lot of the changes are a shuffling of species between different genera and a shuffling of the order of species and genera. For instance, green-tailed and spotted towhees will still be in the genus “Pipilo,” but other towhees will be in “Melozone.”

The AOU goes through cycles of splitting and lumping species. This time the whip-poor-will has been split. This isn’t a big deal for us in Wyoming since we don’t get them here (we have poorwills), but if you saw one in the southwest and one in the eastern U.S., you can now amend your life list and have “Eastern Whip-poor-will” and “Mexican Whip-poor-will” instead.

The winter wren got both global and continental splits. Now there will be the Eurasian Wren and in North America there will be the Pacific Wren and the Winter Wren.

Luckily, “Birds of Wyoming,” by Doug Faulkner, refers to the now former subspecies by nearly the same name as the Pacific wren so we won’t be too confused. In Peterson’s field guides it is noted that west of the Rockies winter wrens sound different than in the east, which is part of the AOU’s justification for the split, as well as DNA differences.

This latest catalog of changes is all of the AOU’s decisions only between January 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010. I’m sure more will continue to come.

What is the point to being picky about bird names? For ornithologists, it’s scientifically precise labels in English and Latin. For the ABA listers, it’s an accurate count of species on their life list.

But for us backyard birdwatchers, it’s being able to communicate with each other, and with the scientists who want our observations for citizen science projects.

So my advice is to make it your priority to keep track of common names and the species getting split and lumped. Learning genera and families is secondary.

After awhile, when you talk to someone new about birds you’ll be able to tell how old their field guide is by what common bird names they use. That means in addition to learning the new names, you can’t forget any of the old names!

Young birds stage summer drama series

Mallard ducklings

Mallard ducklings squeeze together. Photo by Barb Gorges

Published Aug. 23, 2009, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Young birds stage a summer drama series.”

2014 Update: While I don’t get to Holliday Park as often, the backyard stage is as entertaining as ever.

By Barb Gorges

Late summer is late to be hatching ducklings. Mama Mallard either lost her first brood or, having raised them, thought she could slip in another before fall.

I saw her swimming with her very young family in a corner of Lake Minnehaha, at Holliday Park early on a mid-August morning. Two ducklings suddenly propelled themselves forward, as if they were trying to catch flying insects. There was a flurry of peeps and I realized Mama was having a hissy fit, launching herself at a specific spot of water and then another and another while all five ducklings suddenly crowded together near shore.

That’s when I saw the snakelike head of a young double-crested cormorant emerge. I doubt its underwater intentions were merely to tickle the ducklings’ toes. I didn’t stay long enough to see if getting beat up by a mad mom discouraged it or if it was finally successful in grabbing a snack. Sometimes the final act of the play is just too sad to stay and watch.

A tragedy played out at the park earlier, but I missed the coup de grace. The four big white domestic geese are prominent park citizens. Back in July I counted four goslings in their midst, still in their fluffy grayish down. Considering the number of dogs being walked every day, I thought it brave of them to stand around on the mainland rather than on the island. But any dog with a brain would recognize their malevolent gaze and the damage their wedge-shaped bills can do to intruders.

So I was surprised the day I counted only two goslings. And no, the white birds sleeping down by the water’s edge are domestic ducks, not geese. You can tell because they have, umm, duck-shaped bills.

This brings up the latest chapter in an ongoing daytime drama. Since white domestic ducks are descendents of mallards and the mallards at Holliday Park act domesticated, not bothering to migrate any more since they learned people will feed them illegally, it wasn’t surprising that proximity would breed, well, hybrids.

Like a litter of stray kittens, no two of these hybrids seem to look the same. There’s been more than one beginning birder who has flipped through their new field guide in frustration. Some come out as giants with perfect mallard coloring. Some are almost black. Currently, one has a big white spot on the back of its head that gives it a daffy look as it stands around with the other young ducks.

Not all gawky teenagers want to hang out with the others. For several weeks I could depend on seeing one of the young black-crowned night-herons patrolling the lawn on the east side of the park, like a gargantuan sparrow. It didn’t budge an inch as long as I didn’t approach it directly and stayed on the sidewalk, even though I had a 125-pound dog walking beside me.

I don’t know what our unflinching hero was finding in the grass, but four or five of its cohorts, also born in the colony of nests overhead and wearing identical stripy brown plumage, could be found stooped over at the edge of the island waiting to stab fish. Where are their parents? Sleeping days, I expect, now that they don’t have to feed their young every minute.

It isn’t unusual to see small birds harassing large birds. But a couple days ago the David and Goliath story was a bit different. In front of Henderson Elementary School I saw a Eurasian collared-dove flying after a Swainson’s hawk. The hawk landed on the top of a utility pole and the dove on the attached street light, less than two feet away.

As I passed by I could see the hawk was ignoring the live bird in favor of the meat under its talons. I can’t imagine what would drive the dove to want to watch a hawk eat. Was it feeding on another dove or some other animal? I couldn’t tell.

Thousands of coming-of-age stories are playing out in our backyards in late summer. Every time you see a speckled breasted young robin on its own, somewhere is a parent getting down to the business of finding enough to eat to prepare itself for migration. Or notice the grackle being pursued by a youngster thinking it is entitled to a few more free meals.

Just this morning I heard, but didn’t see, two red-breasted nuthatches. Back from their summer in the mountains already? Were these the birds which visited my feeders all last winter, or their kids?

So many stories, so many conjectures, so little time.