Whether out it the boonies or at my own deck feeders, I love photographing birds.
My backyard birds have given me many pleasures, such as seeing this Chipping Sparrow parent feed its youngster.
Or when this huge Pileated Woodpecker swooped onto my upside-down suet feeder.
While healing from my recent knee replacement surgery, I read a new book, Slow Birding by Joan E. Strassmann, which gave me some new perspectives on birding as a hobby.
Strassmann advocates taking a slower approach to birding. Taking your time to really observe a species and appreciate the nuances of birds’ daily lives. I’ve been pretty good at doing that while I photograph a favorite species, like my Sandhill Cranes.
But I’m also guilty of doing what the author calls “motor birding,” where birders drive from one good birding spot to another, picking up a few birds here and there and moving on. I’d done that last July when I photographed my first Indigo Bunting. I was excited at finding this new bird for my life list, but I didn’t really learn a thing about this gorgeous species from my drive-thru photography.
Besides defining her philosophy of Slow Birding, Strassmann describes 16 common backyard birds and supplies scientific studies (sometimes a bit tedious) that help us better understand these regulars. One bird she focuses on is the American Robin. And we all know robins love worms.
But what I didn’t know was that worms are mostly important to robins when feeding their young. Because of that, robins don’t even nest until the humidity is high enough to bring earthworms close to the ground’s surface. And once adult robins are done feeding worms to their young, they live mostly on fruit. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw this robin gobbling berries from a neighbor’s Mountain Ash tree.
Another bird Strassmann focused on was the Blue Jay. They are a gorgeous bird with bright blue to near purple colors. Yet not a single state claims the Blue Jay as its state bird, probably because of its reputation as being noisy and bossy. I was actually surprised to find so few jays in my photography library, especially since they are so photogenic. I guess I don’t like bully birds either.
But I did learn from the book how smart Blue Jays are. They hide hundreds of nuts for the winter and are able to easily find these nuts, indicating they remembered where they were hidden. I saw evidence of their intelligence too as Blue Jays were the only bird to immediately figure out how to use my new nut feeder.
Strassmann also discusses the Northern Cardinal, another beauty and probably my favorite bird. Unlike the jay, the cardinal is the most chosen state bird, claimed by seven states. I feel the female cardinal, with its tan and russet coloring, is just as beautiful as the bright red male bird.
But there’s one bird that’s been elusive to my photography, the Cooper’s Hawk.** Strassmann calls it the “predator at your bird feeder.” I know it’s around because I’ve seen it swoop by in a blur and snatch little birds off my feeders. I’ve also seen feathers and parts of a dead Mourning Dove on the lawn and am sure it was killed by a Cooper’s.
One day before the migration began, I the saw a Cooper’s Hawk perched right on my deck railing, something Strassmann calls a plucking perch. The gall of it! I wasn’t fast enough with the camera to photograph it, though.
Meanwhile, I’m using the fascinating information in Slow Birding to enjoy my own backyard birds more and more. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
**This image of the Cooper’s Hawk was taken by Ryan Schain and is part of the Macaulay Library at allaboutbirds.org.