I looked into the mystery of the gray catbird’s rusty rump. I mentioned the rusty colored feathers under its tail feathers in yesterday’s post. For some reason the underside of its tail feathers looks a little messy. I was able to get more video evidence about what might be the cause.
The catbird looks fastidious. That may be misleading. Scientific observation reveals what is really going on.
This is probably also the origin of an old saying. I think it was Plato who said, “Never stand under a bird.”
We hear the gray catbird more often than we see it. When we do see this beautiful gray bird, it’s only a fleeting glimpse. We more often hear it mewing like a cat. It imitates the songs of other birds as well.
I have caught sight of it in our back yard trees. It streaks back and forth from the trees to somewhere else, most likely a nest.
I finally got a short video yesterday morning from which I gleaned a few pictures. It seemed to show off its feathers, even the rust-colored ones you can see only when it lifts its fan-like tail. It has a handsome black cap.
We have a bird book we consult for help identifying birds. The title is Birds of Iowa: Field Guide, written by Stan Tekiela. I first bought the book many years ago. It was published in 2000. I’m pretty sure I bought it at the Iowa Book store on Clinton Street in downtown Iowa City. It was still for sale at the store as recently as last year.
The book makes it easier to identify birds by color. The sections have titles like “Birds that are mostly gray.” Every page has a tab color making it easier to thumb through the book looking for the birds you saw and want to know more about.
The short descriptions are packed with useful descriptions of things like the behavior, migratory patterns, as well as appearance. Tekiela’s description of the gray catbird includes remarks about its color, saying it is “A handsome slate gray bird with black crown…” and “Often seen with tail lifted, exposing chestnut-colored patch under tail.”
Tekiela also would give some pithy and educational stories about birds. According to him, it’s “A secretive bird that the Chippewa Indians named Bird That Cries With Grief due to its raspy call.” Often it mews like a cat, which is how it got its common name.
Just about any time of year is a great opportunity to walk the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. The birds are busy competing for mates and nesting spaces.
The nest boxes for the tree swallows are up. Already, vacancies are few. Their iridescent feathers are dazzling.
The music in the first part of the video is a piece called “There Are Chirping Birdies In My Soul” by Reed Mathis.
In the second part of the video, we let the birds themselves make the music. The birds don’t just show off; they sound off. All the birds are singing—except for the one killdeer for some reason. I managed to save a few clips of them singing their songs. They are in the last minute or so of the YouTube video. The first is the tree swallow. The next is the red-wing blackbird. Last is the song sparrow.
You’ll need to crank the volume to hear them. The tree swallows have a subtle trilling chirp. The male red-winged blackbirds have a distinctive call that probably sounds very familiar to most of us. We also saw and heard a song sparrow, a first for us.
We were bird watching the other day and saw a few birds we definitely recognized. One of them we puzzled about but finally decided was a sparrow.
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is familiar. We think it was a male. The Blue Jay is still interesting because when it’s not in the sunlight it looks like what it really is—a blackbird. When we first saw it, the bird looked sort of grayish black. Finally, it turned just right and its feather bent the light into the familiar blue color. The Northern Cardinal is instantly recognizable, especially the male. They like to sit a long time, which is great for getting pictures.
The last bird looks like a sparrow but the tail seems longer and the bill is narrower. The breast is not streaked. It has head feathers which stick up. It resembles a female house sparrow, but it seems a bit larger than that. We looked around the web to try and identify the sparrow-like bird we saw.
We wonder if it might be a Cassin’s Sparrow. Although it would be out of its range since it’s found mostly in the southwest United States, Cassin’s Sparrow has been known to wander.
On the other hand, it’s not listed on the websites we saw featuring sparrow species seen in Iowa.
I think the reason it had a greenish breast was because it was reflecting the surrounding tree leaves. We’re calling it a Cassin’s Sparrow for now, but if you know better, shout it out.
Once in a while when I’m filming wildlife, I get an odd feeling that the animal somehow knows it’s being watched. It looks up and seemingly right at the camera.
I got that feeling while making a short video of a Tufted Titmouse the other day. It seemed to stare at me while I filmed it through the window. A tree branch was in front of it and it was really tough to get a clear shot of its face. It looked like it was playing a peekaboo.
Some people say the bird has a friendly face. It also appears to be coy. The name titmouse just means “a small bird.” They’ll pull hairs from sleeping dogs, cats, and squirrels to line their nests.
We always thought of Robins as birds who are the harbingers of spring. On the other hand, we’ve seen Robins in the middle of winter. We saw them today.
I realize that you technically can’t call a Robin a Sunbird. There is a species of Sunbird. It’s a small tropical forest bird. And you could call a person who travels from hot, humid parts of the country to cooler parts a sunbird—sort of the opposite of snowbirds; those who migrate from the cold north to the warm south in the winter months.
And so, I think you could call the Robin a sunbird—sort of. They’ll stick around all winter as long as the berries hold out.
Yesterday was the one of those days where everything seemed to happen for a reason. If we had arrived at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area a few minutes too early or too late, we would not have seen the mesmerizing rise and fall of the shore birds on Sand Lake.
I thought of the word “murmuration,” which refers to starlings flying in tight, swirling patterns. I checked the dictionary and discovered that the word “murmuration” refers to the murmuring sound similar to low-pitched noises starlings make as they fly in flocks, swirling this way and that, presumably to avoid predatory birds.
This led to my wondering if starlings were the only birds that form a murmuration.
I wonder of shore birds also do it because we saw them flying in a sort of swirling pattern when there were no visible predators.
We might have missed the light shining just right on a majestic American Sycamore in all its glory, festooned like a Christmas tree with its seed balls hanging from almost every limb. In fact, some people do make Christmas tree ornaments out of them.
We might also have missed the squirrel munching on his lunch in a tree. It was not eating American Sycamore seed balls, probably only because it was not sitting in an American Sycamore tree.
We have walked the Terry Trueblood trail often, in every season, including autumn. We’ve never seen the seed balls before.
And we might have also missed the Subaru Outback with Wisconsin license plates in the parking lot. It was covered with decals. And later I discovered that the word “decal” is short for “decalcomania,” which is exactly how I would describe how the car came to be so heavily decorated—from an episode of decal-co-mania.
A lot happened yesterday which seemed somehow just right. Some people see so-called “glitches in the matrix,” which are events that seem out of place and ill-timed, leading to the idea we’re living in a poorly run computer simulation.
What about the times we see and feel everything occurring so smoothly that we’re surprised by the flow? Maybe we don’t call attention to it so as to avoid interrupting the miracle.
The other day we heard this big bang against one of our windows. We both guessed what it was—another bird collision. A couple of years ago, one crashed into a window, got knocked out, lay on its side, and puffed really hard for a half hour or so.
Then it flew away.
This bird was not so lucky. It was hard to identify until we looked at the large flock of similar looking birds in the backyard trees. It was one of a large gathering of juvenile Cedar Waxwings. They didn’t have the red wingtips but they had sporty yellow tail feather tips and they had typical masks around their eyes.
Sometimes birds attack their reflections in windows. Several species do that but this one was not on the list. We think it was just an accident.
They were probably after the winterberry shrubs. There are a lot of articles on the web about birds getting drunk from eating fermented berries. I’m not sure how anyone knows, but some writers say it can cause birds to crash into windows. Have the birds undergone some kind of field sobriety test (“Okay buster, stand on one leg, and touch your beak with your wings.”)?
Cedar Waxwings are very gregarious, raucous, and rowdy birds who eat berries with gusto. The adults look a little like clownish (and maybe drunken) bandits.
We planted an Amaryllis in a pot to celebrate the bird’s life. I guess Amaryllis bulbs can sprout new blooms for several years, almost like being reborn many times.
A little story from Greek mythology says that a maiden named Amaryllis had a monster crush on a shepherd named Alteo, a first-class heel who ignored her but loved flowers. She tried stabbing herself in the heart every day with a golden arrow for thirty days but at first that only led to a lot of trips to the local emergency room. But on the thirtieth day, a gorgeous flower grew from her blood. That’s the only thing that got Alteo’s attention; can you believe that jerk? They got married and honey-mooned at Niagara where they both got smashed on fermented winterberries, jumped out of the Maid of the Mist boat, crashed into a rainbow which turned out to be a wormhole portal to another galaxy where they finally sobered up by eating beef jerky from Sasquatch, who is an interdimensional creature as everyone knows.
The moral of the story is you should close your window shades more often, which might deter some birds from crashing into your windows—unless they’re really drunk.
The other day Sena and I went on a nature walk at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. There’s a lot of Mullein growing out there. It’s a pretty invasive prairie type plant. It’s said to have medicinal uses, but don’t eat it.
The tree swallow chicks have all fledged. We didn’t see any water fowl but the red wing blackbirds were raising a ruckus.
There were many common butterflies like Monarchs and Black Swallowtails.
And there were a few rare species—compliments of Sena’s brooches, which you view for the first time ever in our video.