Toree’s Stories: ‘Cheeseburgers’ in winter paradise
January 29, 2014
Today was a day of many firsts — I saw a new bird for the first time, I heard him and was quickly able to locate him, and it was the first new bird spotted in the winter!
When I went outside at lunchtime, I immediately heard a new bird sound coming from behind the house. I think he was actually showing himself off to me because he flitted quite openly over logs and sticks behind the house while I watched, chirping as he went.
He had a reddish, long tail with black horizontal stripes. He was small and I thought he was a kind of nuthatch that I was not aware of.
After he flew off, I began searching my bird books and resources online, and I think what I saw was a Bewick's wren.
This small bird is common in the West and Southern Central United States and also Mexico but has virtually disappeared in the East. He has a long slender bill, white underparts and is greyish brown on top with a noticeable white eyebrow.
He holds his long tail upright, another thing I noticed as I watched him while he flitted about, which he flicked from side to side.
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The experience brought to mind a similar bird that I have been watching for a couple of years but only identified this past summer, and that is the house wren.
Small and mostly flecked brown with a shorter tail and bill than that of the Bewick's wren, it is rather fierce for its size.
In fact, it is possible that the house wren is responsible for the disappearance of the Bewick's wren in the East because it has been known to remove eggs from the nests of other birds, even killing nestlings or throwing them out of their nest. Amazing behavior, considering this bird is only about 4 and a half inches long, beak to tail.
I had been listening to the male sing in the area for a couple of months but could never get a good look at him because he would hide as soon as I trained my binoculars on him. He has a distinct song and a burring, metallic-sounding call note which caused me to discover him.
One day I got lucky — I was partially hidden so I had time to really look at him and was able to identify him at last! I also got to see his fierceness in action once when a chipmunk ventured too close to their nesting site.
Both birds flew around the chipmunk, buzzing and chattering. The chipmunk seemed not to care. It scurried up a tree, into a hole in the trunk where he remained for a minute or so. He came out, down the tree and scampered away, the two birds buzzing around him the entire time.
The house wren's life span is about seven years so I hope they will be back in the spring. I love his robust song, coming from such a tiny bird, even if he does throw babies out of their nests!
A favorite bird of just about anyone who notices birds at all is the mountain chickadee, the Western variety of the black-capped chickadee, which is found in the North.
This striking small bird has a black and white striped head, grey sides and whitish underbelly. He sings a song that we have all heard and many people call it the "cheeseburger" song — a sweet, whistled 3-note tune that coincides with the cadence of "cheese-bur-ger."
This song is sung mainly in the spring when the males are looking to mate and are claiming territory.
Chickadees are bold and inquisitive creatures and are likely to perch on humans or accept sunflower seeds from an out-stretched hand.
Apparently up at the meadows on Mt. Rose Highway, the mountain chickadees have become so used to people they will join you for lunch!
Birding season is actually just around the corner. I start noticing increased activity usually sometime in February, depending on the weather.
This odd winter has certainly made life easier for the birds, more difficult for the merchants and has most definitely been hard on the ski resorts. Join me in saying, "Let it snow!"
Toree Warfield is an avid nature lover, and writes this column to teach and stimulate interest in the marvels that surround us. See save-our-planet-earth.blogspot.com to read columns and to find links to bird song recordings, additional photos and other content.