Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Name From the Past

My house in Maine is out in the country but it's set back quite a way from the woods and I don't have the huge numbers of birds hanging out in the backyard that I did back in New York, where the woods were about 30 feet from the back wall and there was a huge old tree in the yard.

But what they lack in numbers, they make up for in color. I did have goldfinches and purple finches in New York, but here there are also indigo buntings, which add a shade of blue that's a little surreal in nature ... or at least in zoological nature. This picture, of a very colorful group who showed up at the same time the other day, was shot through the window and is not very clear, but you can see which bird I'm referring to.

When I was very little, we had a game called "Bird Lotto" that featured cards with a lot of very colorful birds. I don't remember much of the game itself -- my memories of playing it are set in a house we left when I was in the first grade, and either the game didn't make the move or we had simply lost interest in it -- but I learned a lot of birds' names, including the indigo bunting. It may have been my first exposure to nature and, whether or not Bird Lotto sparked the interest, I soon began to acquire lots of books on the topic, and to follow Disney's nature films closely. For that matter, one of the first comics I followed with any sustained attention was the Sunday version of Mark Trail.

The result is that there are lots of animals I know about but have never seen. The first time one of these intensely blue little birds appeared on the feeder this spring, I immediately thought, "That's got to be an indigo bunting!" and looked it up and, sure enough, there it was, only 52 years or so after I learned its name.

Which goes to show you that no knowledge is ever wasted, if you live long enough.


Gabe said...

So how long do I have to live for my Garbage Pail Kids and "Where's the Beef?" knowledge to become useful?

ronnie said...

The Sunday Mark Trail is always educational. I barely glance at it on Sundays.

Out of curiosity, do you get any Black-Capped Chickadees, NB's provincial bird? I get them at our feeder and I love them; unfortunately we are so urban that eventually pigeons take over the feeder and I have to let it lie empty for a little while for the pigeons to stop visiting and then refill it and enjoy the chickadees, jays, sparrows and grosbeaks until the stupid pigeons notice the food again...

Mike said...

Chickadees were a huge part of my birdfeeder clientele when I was closer to the woods. I see them here, but not to that extent -- however, that could change with the seasons. They were always more prevalent in winter anyway.

As for pigeons, well, that's what you get for living in the city. I have a flock of about half a dozen doves that is here pretty regularly. Lately, they've apparently grown impatient waiting for the finches and nuthatches and, yes, indigo buntings to knock seeds out of the feeder and onto the ground for them. A couple have tried to use the feeder itself and it's kind of comical -- like watching a big dog try to get comfortable on a little dog bed or something. They really don't fit on the perches and it looks like more work to avoid falling off than it can possible be worth. Much of the humor comes from the fact that I don't really associate these shy, gentle birds with comedy.

On the plus side, they're probably knocking a lot of seeds to the ground with all this frustrated effort.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Am i right that the cone-shaped feeder is filled with thistle? I never thought to check beyond the general-purpose feeders they sell at Kmart, but that's a good idea. We just mix thistle in with the rest but a lot gets wasted that way. Then again, the jungle of weird plants that grow under the feeder is kind of nifty!