Even as a boy and newly-supplied with my first black-and-white camera I loved photographing birds. They provide the city with nature and music to an otherwise quiet forest, sometimes with a cacophony. As wildlife goes, birds are relatively benign, unlike moose, bears or snakes, and there are such a variety that endless communities of birdwatchers never tire of pondering them.
I remember the first time I saw an eagle in the wild, a massive golden eagle in the Mojave desert that stood about as tall as my 12-year-old body at the time. It was about a quarter mile away and we stopped and watched as it was joined by another gargantuan specimen with an unfortunate victim clutched in a claw. Obviously a mating pair, they wrestled for a few minutes on the ground before majestically taking to the cloudless blue sky. I had been hiking with other Boy Scouts and didn't have my camera, but I knew there would be a lifetime of opportunities in my life. I was right.
I often think about mammals having thinking brains, unlike most other types of life on the planet, but the more you watch wild birds the more you realize that they must also be thinking. They watch their surroundings, contemplate their options, then decide whether to flee, fight or try something new. I've seen jay birds figure out, after several attempts, how to open a squirrel feeder, and robins team up to fight off some annoying grackles. They amaze me.
Many times I have seen a bird of an uncommon species, like a yellow-headed blackbird or painted bunting, only to have it fly away as I scramble for my camera, even if it was close by. It may have been the only time in my life to see one live and close up and I have to be satisfied with the single viewing.
I received several great responses on this topic and here are some of them (I've edited or paraphrased some):
BLSMSS- I love birds in flight -- watching them catch the wind, just gliding -- looking so graceful at times, and the amazement of how they can see the smallest object and dive to get it. The wing span on some of the larger birds like the eagles are amazing. The best is the gorgeous palate of colors that many of them have.
Habadabeer- I like the feeling of superiority I get when I’m able to identify a bird, especially by song! For me, the biggest thrill is when I see them when they don’t know I’m there. The private personalities and range of behaviors of birds who aren’t spooked by a potential predator is amazing to see! Once you’ve observed any bird in action that intimately, you’ll have no doubt they are direct descendants of dinosaurs! I’ve seen little finches snag a moth and devour it with a ferocity that would put a lion to shame, then sing a quiet little song of joy to itself before reverting back to deadly hunter. At my sticks-and-bricks home I have hummingbirds that hover in front of my window looking inside to get my attention when they return every spring, just to let me know it’s time for me to hang my feeder there again. My grandmother used to hand-feed chickadees outside her kitchen every winter, and my Dad built bluebird houses and tracked their comings and goings every year when I was growing up, so there’s a strong family tradition of appreciating that I can relate too.
TheClearyClan- Some birds have a sick sense of humor. About 25 years ago there was a mockingbird that would watch us waiting for the bus to work in the early morning. The bus route passed through an "L" intersection a block-and-a-half from where we were waiting, so we did not have a long line of sight and necessitated the bus coming to almost a full stop. The mockingbird learned how to mimic the sound of the bus brakes. It would sit on the wire over our heads, make the squeaking sound of the breaks and watch us pick up our bags and take out our fare money. After a minute and we saw no bus with put the money back in our pockets and put our bags back down. Then the bird would start it all over again... About 35 years ago, while sitting in a park eating lunch I saw a bumble bee zoom by at about 30 MPH. I never knew they could fly that fast. Well, the bee had some motivation -- a swallow was about a foot behind the bee with its mouth open trying to make that bee lunch.
Becca R.- I love to see baby birds hatching from their eggs in the Spring with doting Mother/Father birds tending to their nutritional needs
Myo (The EASY One)- I love to see the predatory birds but I’m even happy to see the more common birds like those you can see in a McDonald's parking lot. Unfortunately, I’m seeing fewer and fewer birds. Have you noticed a decline or is it just me?
Mike and Donna W.- Bluebirds are my favorite wild bird. It took nearly 40 years to entice a pair to stay on our ranch in Oakdale, Calif. I think of them as the “bluebirds of happiness”. They finally showed up shortly after my husband was diagnosed with cancer - I considered it a sign that all would be OK - and it was. The bluebirds are still there and my husband is free of cancer.
Tom & Trish- Sight plus sound. Freedom of flight equates to freedom that results from RVing and the open road.
2 Frazzled (John & Holly)- We are volunteering at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge - a serious birding spot! Seeing all these people coming to enjoy the birds is awesome. We've had people fly in from other countries! A birdsong always brings a smile to my face (even if they are yelling for me to hurry up with the food). The way they interact with me during feeding is fun, too. When I put out the food in the morning at the Visitor Center, the Chachalacas wander around my legs, staring up with cute little black eyes making a purring/cooing sound. I know they only love me for the food but it's still fun. A clay-colored thrush started stealing suet mix out of my bowl and just froze with a big blob in its beak when I turned toward it. So cute, so still, so watchful... then, when I didn't threaten it, it gulped down that bite, snagged another and flew to the bushes to watch and wait until I left the feeding area. Soooo many awesome birds!
Nadyne H.- We always like having birds around. I enjoy the sounds of their singing in the morning and all day. There are even birds that sing at night in some of our camping spots! I'm especially happy when we see cardinals and blue birds of any kind as these seem to be rare anymore. I miss having bird feeders outside so that we have lots of birds, on the road we haven't been feeding birds like we used to when we were stationary. To our delight, we also have three grand-birds! Two parakeets, Clover and Sprout, and one cockatiel, Bubo. They live with Jackie and Leah and are such fun to visit with! They fly around the rooms and land on us and actually talk! We love birds of all kinds!
Jim & Doty G.- Two sightings of a yellow cardinal have been made in our area. One near Theodore and one a little further South closer to our home. I guess from the article a yellow cardinal is a very rare bird. We have a few eagles come to our little pond and fish, but the Blue Heron and the Egrets are here all the time.
Marsha and David- I have been watching a bald eagle circle above our house and fish in the river. Always thrilling.
I'll close these musings with a quote from British journalist David Attenborough: "Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?"
Please feel free to add your own comments and memories below!
Addendum: I have posted a grouping photo gallery, Wild Birds, with about 350 pics from around the country. Check it out! I have it set up with a random start point for the slideshow, so you can come back several times and see new sets of slides.
Jack Huber is a writer, blogger, poet and photographer. Like many, he is concerned about the psyche of our planet's inhabitants and wants to try to improve his little corner of it.