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Sunday, April 20, 2008

When you live in a place long enough, and you're lucky enough to be able to work at home and stare out the windows at the birds for part of each day, you can get to know them as individuals. It helps when a bird has distinctive markings--maybe missing feathers on the hindcrown, like one male indigo bunting who nested here for many years. Perhaps there's a drooping wing, like that of the bluebird we called Mr. Troyer. He nested in our yard for eight years, and I still miss him. There's a long story behind him, but that's one for the next book.
Speaking of distinctive markings, this is Snowflake (who I began calling Queen Frostine), a leucistic female dark-eyed junco who has been with us for three winters, growing whiter each year. She's a Zick Dough freak, and I'd love to think that we've just sent her to Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire or Ontario with an ample pad of fat for the flight, and a good start for the breeding season ahead. The last juncoes left on April 17 as they do every year. You can imagine how excited we'll be should Queen Frostine show up again next winter. She's our friend.

Ruby is a beautiful female red-bellied woodpecker. This is her third year with us (that I know of). Year to year, she's displayed a consistent mark: two tiny red bindis in her otherwise gray forecrown. She's also got really red nares just above the bill, which is a sign of her maturity, as is the faint wash of red along her malar (jaw) area).
Those two simple feathers, and the fact that I happened to notice them, elevate her status from that of Just Another Redbelly to a Named Bird, a friend. It's a human conceit, of course, that she's special because I've named her, but it helps me to feel a bond with her from year to year, and it makes me more interested in watching her behavior. There's value in that, if only for me as the observer. She's certainly interested in my behavior; she waits each morning in the willow or on the chimney for me to pop out with the Zick Dough. Recipe here. She's probably noticed that I have more gray streaks in my forecrown this year than last, and a bunch more than three years ago. Ruby, we'll talk.

Sometimes she's dainty about helping herself to dough
and sometimes she grabs the biggest glob she can find to bear off and cache.
I never tire of watching Ruby, of noticing what, besides those two little red feathers, makes her an individual.
Wouldn't you think she'd spread her wings for the leap down to the railing? I think she wants to avoid knocking the dough to the ground with the backwash from her wings, that's what I think.

I like Ruby; I like knowing that she knows me and looks forward to seeing me, too. She's not a pet, but neither is she just another bird to me. She's my neighbor, my friend.


Awwh...great post. I feel the same way about a Song Sparrow I was seeing this winter. He had a white spot on one wing that made him distinctive.

There's a pair of downey woodpeckers that live in my neighbourhood that we refer to as Mr. and Mrs. Woodpecker. They have been here for a number of years and are quite like old friends. I know pretty much the whole gang of birds that hangs around in the backyard. Your post today strikes a very responsive chord.

This really stirred me up, Julie. I'm all choked up. I'd like to believe there's a bird out there who recognizes me and I'd also like to be able to identify a distinguishing mark on them - and name them. Sweet post!

Awww... what a sweet Ruby. I am sure she knows you well too and looks forward to seeing you Julie.

Forgive the broken record, but yes, a wonderful, simple post. Birds and other critters ARE individuals, and we so easily lose sight of that, even while we are forever aware of it in our own kind.
BTW, I doubt Ruby really notices the "gray streaks" in your "forecrown," but I do wonder what she thinks of your shorts and other attire (...just kidding ;-).

I see nothing strange about this. This coming from a woman that names EVERYTHING, including my car "Bulldog", two opposums that frequent my front porch for a snack and a drink of clean water "Daisy" and "Simon". I just wrote about Marcel the mockingbird that sings up a storm in my bramble. He has been in that particular spot for the past two winters now. Oh, yes, and there once was a one-legged starling I named appropriately "Stumpy" who was around for two seasons.

Add me to the growing list of people moved by this post. I'll be watching our feeder visitors much more closely now, looking for distinguishing characteristics that help identify a repeat visitor.

As for naming, yeah, I do that too. We have a pair of Canada geese nesting on our pond; just this weekend they were dubbed "Beans and Cornbread."

What a neat story about Ruby. Does she bring her young 'uns every year also?
P.S. We still have bunches of juncos, although I'm thinking this may be their last week here as its finally starting to warm up in Minnesota.

What a lovely bird! Thanks for sharing her with us!

What a wonderful post. I love Snowflake!

I tend to use the same name for all of one species (i.e. Mr. and Mrs Cardinal); perhaps I'll find some time to study them a little longer and see if I can find any distinguishing marks to show repeat visitors.

Thanks for the great post.

We tend to name the familiars in our yard as well. Daughter #3 dubbed the albino wild turkey "Isis", Bip the rb nuthatch, Mrs. Feather, the tree swallow who took feathers from our fingers for her nest. A number of others are borrowed from classic Thornton Burgess children's books.
Your Ruby is a beauty!
Caroline in South Dakota

Love your junco and those woodpeckers are stunning! I always love catching up with your post!

I love this story, Julie. And feel the same way about a little chickadee we have--with a white tail.

I envy your ability to watch so many things out your window--and your way of sharing and passing it on.
It's the personal connection that is made with nature and shared, that may move others to stop in their tracks long enough to find a connection for themselves, too.

We have a named deer. Sadly, her name is Gimpy because two summers ago she broke her right front ankle. Amazingly, it "healed" albeit totally bent (she steps on the bend of the broken ankle rather than the hoof). She's still roaming around with her daughter of that Spring, and another little doe who lost her own mother before being entirely weaned the same Spring/Summer who is smaller than she should be presumably because of not getting enough to eat at some critical point in her development. They are the only ones of the many deer that comprise "our" herd that we actually recognize regularly. It's sad that Gimpy was hurt, but kind of nice to "know" her and her two hand maidens.

Dear Julie,

Science surely does not have all the answers (and I say that as a scientist), because there is SO much more to the natural world than things that science can explain. You give abundant evidence of that, over and over---that's only one reason why I keep reading your blog.

Bill Mueller
Milwaukee, WI

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