Yesterday, I saw a bright orange bird flutter by one of our feeders. My camera had just gone to flashing red. My battery was dead. And the bird wasn’t around long enough for me to get a photograph of him. Of course. A little later, Owen was standing at the door and he saw the same bird.
“He looks exactly like a Cardinal … but he’s orange.”
I looked up Orioles — the only really orange bird I know — and he had the right color, but everything else was wrong. Black wing bars, no crest. This was making me crazy, so I went online. Cornell University has a huge bird identification site. I finally typed in “orange cardinal” and discovered … there are orange cardinals. Not a lot of them, but it turns out that birds don’t always turn out to be the colors they are supposed to be. It’s called leucism or leukism and all it means is that this bird is the wrong color. if it’s all white with pink eyes, that an albino bird. It’s rare, but it happens. But there are all kind of other strange combination and that had pictures to prove it. I also saw what I swear was a black “Blue Jay” with a white crest. I looked through all my bird books and the only bird that lives anywhere near us with a white crest is an egret. This was no kind of water bird.
There is a special section on the Cornell website that has pictures of birds in all kinds of strange colors. One of them was a Blue Jay with a big white crest. Just like the one I saw. I had been wondering about the huge differences in color I saw among the Goldfinches. Some of the males not only have black caps, but have patches of black all over the place. Some others are so close to white they are nearly albino. These color changes seem to be particularly common among finches and we have many finches. I was also wondering if these color oddities are inheritable. Our Goldfinches live here year-round except for a two month flyaway to Canada in November for breeding. Why they fly north to breed? Ask the birds, but they do. Then they come back here and lay their eggs. Our Goldfinch population has been growing by leaps and bounds. This year, we have dozens of them. And the House Finches — the red finches — have also gone from a couple of them to flocks. in fact, we have a lot of birds.
This morning, I got up to go to the bathroom, but I wound up spending more than an hour watching through the window as the birds gathered in the tree nearest the deck. All different types of birds. Then they started flying to the feeders, grabbing seeds, then flying off. Sometimes, they fly to a branch and break the seed on the branch, then go back again for another seed. The bigger birds don’t have to do that. They can crack the seeds with their bigger beaks. That’s why so many of the bigger birds seem to be, well, kind of fat. Take a look at the Tufted Titmouse. He is the size of two less well-fed Titmouses.
Instead of going for the coffee, I took bird pictures. I missed all the fancy birds and got lots of Goldfinches, Chipping Sparrows, some kind of brown wren. Maybe a Carolina Wren … they live here in the summer and go south in the winter. Cardinals dropped by, but I didn’t get any shots. Blue Jays were around, and there were some interesting woodpeckers … but they didn’t hang around either.
What I did notice is that because we feed them, there are birds everywhere. Every tree has two or three kinds of birds on the branches, or like the Nuthatches, climbing up or down the trunk. Squirrels are never far away either. I got one truly obscene pictures of a squirrel’s butt and maybe I’ll find the right venue to display it, but not today. I took too many pictures and deleted about half of them. Some came out well, but others were either to close, too far, or missing their heads. I decided not to do the missing head and stay with birds that were all there.