Category Archives: Birds

Eighth Day of Christmas

By | Birds | 2 Comments

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…eight vultures circling!

…seven spiky yuccas!

…six types of milkweed!

…fiiiive! naaaative! plaaaaants!

…four hummingbirds!

…three moorhens!

…two mourning doves!

…and a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!


Black vultures, Coragyps atratus, are native to my neck of the woods, with a range extending over most South America. We have tons of turkey vultures as well, but I had never encountered black vultures until I moved to North Carolina.

You can ID a black vulture quite easily in flight, as they have a different shape than turkey vultures and a large pale crescent at the end of each wing. They are—for vultures—quite charming. Most of the rehabbers I’ve talked to say that vultures rapidly become their favorite birds to work with, as they’re intensely social and capable of great affection. Black vultures usually live in family groups and you’ll often see the whole clan going after a roadkilled deer.

We had one—Vulture-Bob—perch on our house for a few days. Because we are terrible suckers, we worried that he might be hungry, but drew the line at setting out carrion. (We were also rather worried he’d vomit on the dog, this being their primary method of self-defense.) He left a few days later, but every few months, he—or someone like him—appears in the woods around the yard again, checking to make sure we have not died. So far we have not obliged.

Both Kevin and I now cannot pass a flock on the roadside without calling out “Hi, fellas!”¬† When I was driving across the southern US this last time, I didn’t start to feel like I was getting near home until I saw a black vulture (which wasn’t until somewhere around Mississippi.)

Yes, this is a weird thing to fixate on. I’m a birder. We do that.


Fourth Day of Christmas

By | Birds | One Comment

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…four hummingbirds!

…three moorhens!

…two mourning doves!

…and a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only kind we get in my neck of the woods (at least regularly—every now and then a weird vagrant will blow in) and they’re only here through early fall. They’ve long since left town at this point, completely defeating the bit where I planted two kinds of late-blooming salvia for them, which have never yet flowered while there are still hummingbirds in residence. I leave them up A) because there might be late migrants I miss who are really happy for the hit of nectar and B) because I don’t actually know if I can kill that one salvia and if I try and fail the plant will laugh at me and take my lunch money. (It’s only the size of a haystack. In the vegetable bed. That’s hardly inconvenient at all, really…)

Ahem. Right. Hummingbirds.

The ruby-throated hummingbird has a stable population. Single Female Hummingbird, who shows up in my yard (same individual or a succession? No idea) every year raised two babies this last year, much to my delight. The sight of a hummingbird with down still sticking to its tiny noggin was one of the greatest gardening moments of my life. I was so damn proud that my garden had enough going on to raise a hummingbird family. And there were two of them!

I do miss the dramatic hummingbirds from my time in Arizona, but really, any hummingbird is just plain cool.

Third Day of Christmas

By | Birds | One Comment

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

…three moorhens!

…two mourning doves!

…and a replacement for a Bradford pear tree!

Technically our hamster is behind the times, since the American form of the moorhen is now known as the common gallinule. But he’s trying very hard.

Moorhens (or in our case, gallinules) are a type of rail. Around here, the American coot is the more common rail, but we do get the occasional moorhen too. (Given that this is black and white, the bird there looks more like a coot anyway, since they have white bills, and moorhens had red bills, but we’ll go with it.)

Alert readers may note that I once nearly killed a man over the difference.

I do not have enough wetland here to attract either coots or gallinules (and would be very surprised if they were to show up in the frog pond) but if you go about two miles towards town, there’s a very nice little lakelet that gets the occasional rail visitor. And a coot showed up at my friends’ place down the road. The theory is that it was exhausted and saw their ducks and thought “Flock! It’s a flock!” and landed with them. The coot was fine after a few days of recuperation, but my friend Marq said that it took the poor bird the length of a field to get airborne. Rails are shy, graceful beasts among the reeds. In flight, they’re…somewhat less graceful.

Our American form of this species is not endangered, not threatened, and not apparently in decline. There is a Hawaiian subspecies that’s probably in trouble, by virtue of being a native bird in Hawaii. It’s called the ‘alae ‘ula, and supposedly in legend is the bird that brought fire from the gods to the people. Which is really quite lovely, particularly compared to comparable Greek myths involving people’s livers.


By | Birds | 3 Comments

This is a hermit thrush.


Photo by William H. Majoros, Wikimedia Commons

It has been a positive clearing house of thrushes in the yard lately, as we had a late Swainson’s in the front, a flock of robins mooching around the back, and for the last two days, Thrush-Bob the hermit thrush patrolling the deck.

Thrush-Bob showed up and promptly began attacking the windows. This wasn’t suicide-by-window, where they plow right into it thinking it’s sky, this is a kind of fluffing scrabbling up-and-down the glass. (The deck windows are those latticed types made up of a dozen smaller rectangles, so we’ve never yet had a suicide-strike–they see the grid and slow down.)

No, as far as I can tell, Thrush-Bob is pissed at the other thrush in the glass.

I am not entirely sure if mid-December is territorial time for a hermit thrush. I am not even sure if thrushes are territorial! But damned if I can think of another explanation, unless Thrush-Bob is flying at the enemy screaming “STOP COPYING ME!” (And hell, bluebirds go house hunting in January, so it’s not that weird, I guess. Or maybe Thrush-Bob is young and trying to carve out his own new territory.)

Kevin finally turned the lights on inside the house, to try and make the windows less reflective. This slowed Thrush-Bob’s assault. Now he simply bounced from railing to grill to potted plant. He runs along the deck (being a thrush) lurks briefly in the miniature rose, up to the railing, runs the railing for several feet, hops on the grill, launches himself into the air, lands in the spicebush, stares in the windows accusingly, then hops down and runs off again.

For the last two mornings, a row of cats has been glued to the windows, quivering with pent up predatory instinct. Even Ben, who believes that hunting happens to other people—who then give it to him, their lord and master—is not immune to the Saga of the Thrush. Several times he has given me a stern look indicating that I should be out there catching him dinner.

Hermit thrushes, in case you’re curious, are one of those birds that are actually increasing in population. Being bug eaters, pesticides are bad for them, but as the forests regenerate in the East, their numbers keep going up. So that’s a nice thought. They seem like such fragile little creatures that it’s nice to know they’re pretty tough.

So, getting back to my particular thrush.

There are only two solutions, as I see it.

Well, three.

A) Do nothing. Wait for Thrush-Bob to move on to wormier pastures.

B) Get one of those hawk cut-outs to scare him away before he hurts himself. I hate to do this, because the deck has the birdbath where the Carolina chickadees and the titmice come to drink. (Heavier birds just plop into the frog pond.) Thrush-Bob is unbothered by these little guys, it’s only the Other Thrush that arouses his ire. I don’t want to scare off my little garden birds from one of the primary neighborhood water sources! (Seriously, we may be the only thing going that isn’t a horse trough for a mile.)

C) Buy mealworms and leave them out for Thrush-Bob so that he can keep his strength up.

I lean toward A, with perhaps a bit of C. The cats haven’t gotten this much excitement since the time the lizard got in.

On the downside, Thrush-Bob wakes up VERY early, and the sound of him savagely attacking the Other Thrush is enough to wake the beagle, who begins baying hysterically because WE WILL ALL BE MURDERED BY THE TINY BIRD OH GOD THE HUMANITY. So we’ll see if I am still feeling so charitable in a few days.


Hummingbird Fledglings!

By | Birds | One Comment

Ha! I have confirmation at last–Single Female Hummingbird has raised a pair of babies in the yard.

I had a suspicion when two hummingbirds showed up out of nowhere, and Single Female Hummingbird didn’t chase them away immediately. She is merciless to intruders into HER yard. These two she tolerates to be on the other side of the bee balm, although if one makes for a flower that she’s working on, she gets pretty annoyed.

But it was only a suspicion, because a young adult hummingbird looks exactly like an adult female hummingbird*, so for all I knew, I was just hosting some peculiar avian sorority. But today I actually got a close look at one of the newcomers, and he had fluff. The last bits of baby down were still clinging to his little feet, and particularly ridiculously, to the top of his head.

So Single Female Hummingbird successfully raised a pair of babies! (Male hummingbirds are deadbeat dads.)

I am terribly gratified. This goes along with the single pipevine swallowtail caterpillar on the hairy Dutchman’s pipe as Awesome Stuff In The Garden This Summer. And now I can add ruby-throated hummingbirds to the list of birds that have raised babies in the yard, which includes blue-gray gnatcatchers, white-breasted nuthatches, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, red-bellied woodpeckers, and possibly most gratifying, the pileated woodpecker. (Only one baby there, but it was a BIG baby.)


*The ruby gorget that marks males doesn’t show up until next year.

My Mulch Brings All The Birds To The Yard

By | Birds | 3 Comments


Pretty sure this is a mourning dove egg. It’s only a foot or two from the feeder, the “nest” is barely a scuffle in the mulch, and a squirrel or something will undoubtedly eat it in the next ten minutes. (I’m a little surprised it lasted long enough for me to see it!)

Doves are not good at this.

Ground Control to Maj–HOLY CRAP!

By | Birds | 5 Comments

So for the last week or so, we’ve been catching sight of this young male turkey in the wooded area on the other side of the fence. He’s got the brilliant head, so we’re pretty sure he’s male, and he seemed to be lurking in the woods, livin’ the bachelor life, all that good turkey stuff.

A bit small, but a fine figure of a turkey, we thought. Surely he will have no trouble attracting some sweet young thing and all her friends to be his harem!

Today I got a look at the competition.


Tom is going to be single for a very long time.

The turkey strolling about twenty feet from the fence-line was like the Platonic ideal of a male turkey. He had an enormous belled chest and a stiffly fanned tail and his snood (the dangly bit off the beak) went on for miles. He was gigantic. He looked like every “before” Thanksgiving turkey picture¬† you ever see, and he hasn’t even gotten to the fattening up stage of the year yet. This guy was solid testosterone and feathers. If I were a female turkey, I would have thrown my panties at him. Even out here on a completely different trunk of the evolutionary thicket, I felt a bit of a twinge. I’ve been on dates with guys who had less going on than that turkey.

Obviously this is “Major Tom.” (I guess that makes me Ground Control.)

I wasn’t able to get Kevin to a window fast enough to see him, but hopefully he’ll be back. Preferably not when the beagle is out. That bird would eat Gir for lunch and spit out the bones afterwards.

I feel a bit of a pang for Tom the Lesser, but…well…dayum.

Migrant Season

By | Birds | 3 Comments

I love fall migration. Black-thr0ated Green Warbler in one of the cedar trees out back! (Not a lifer, but a nice little bird, and a new one for the yard list.)

The vast majority of the birding I do is out my window—I keep my binoculars on the windowsill, atop my dog-eared Sibley. It always astounds me the sheer number of birds that come through the tiny vistas seen through the windows. While the odds are skewed somewhat by the fact that my yard is generally pretty darn bird friendly—tall trees, lots of water, heavy on the bugs and birdseed, light on the predators and pesticide—there still must be just an unbelievable number of birds streaming south for any given migrant to show up in my little patch. Even my super-casual birding out the window generally turns up two or three new birds a year. (This year it’s the Black-and-white and the Black-throated Green, last year it was the Red-Eyed Vireo and the rather late Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.)

Haven’t seen the vulture for awhile. Wherever he is, I wish him good health and many tasty road-killed deer. I did encounter a massive family flock of black vultures gathered around an ex-deer on the roadside yesterday, so maybe it was a teenage rebellious phase and he went back to his family.

There was a shed snakeskin in one of the flowerbeds yesterday. I’d judge that the owner was about as thick around as a sharpie. The skin was about a foot long, but the head had shredded off or wasn’t attached, so I’m not sure exactly how large he was. At a guess, probably one of the little brown snakes that love flowerbeds.

Meanwhile, it’s raining, the windows are open, things are cool and damp and smell lovely, and I have a check and sales statement from Penguin informing me that Dragonbreath 1 has sold a smidge over 75K books. Even though I pretty much just get to wave at this check before sending it to the IRS, life is good.

The Return

By | Birds | One Comment

Vulture-Bob was back again today. This time he was standing in the driveway. Kevin took a camera out after him. He’s obviously not scared of us, but when Kevin got too close, he went gallumphing off down the driveway and finally grumpily got into the air.

I am vaguely flattered that he finds our yard congenial, but he really can’t stay. There’s no scenario that ends well for the vultures OR the beagle (or god forbid, the border collie tries to herd them…) It’s just not a big enough yard for a gigantic vomiting bird, however unmitigatedly fantastic I think they are.

By | Birds, My Garden | No Comments

So we came home, and this guy was perched on top of the porch roof, directly outside our bathroom window.

This is my roof now.

For those at home, this handsome fellow is a black vulture, a species endemic to the southern United States. They are gorgeous birds, and very common around here. (Thank god. Something’s got to clean up all those roadkilled deer.)

It is not, however, something you expect to find on the porch.

After a few minutes, while we stood and stared and went “Holy crap! There’s a black vulture on our roof!” he hopped over to the garage roof and walked up to the rooftree, where he is now sitting and preening. As I am in the studio typing this, we are separated by a lighting fixture and a couple of inches of insulation, drywall, and shingles. (Got the photo out the attic window.)

We’re fine as long as he’d just passing through. If we come out later and there are six of ’em on the roof—black vultures live in small family flocks—we may have a problem. If we had ten or twenty acres, I would welcome them, but if they decide to take up residence in the yard, the clashes between vulture and beagle could prove detrimental to…well…everybody. (Dog charges, baying hysterically. Vulture freaks out and vomits on dog. Dog has to go to the vet for acid burns and dry cleaning. As dog Does Not Learn From Experiences, being a beagle, we would rinse and repeat until he either resembled the Phantom of the Opera or the vultures decided to leave, and I am given to understand that vultures hardly ever decide to leave.)

It’s still pretty damn awesome, though.