House finch

A house finch rests on a limb.

There’s one house finch on the thistle seed feeder outside the window in front of my desk and a cardinal on a branch of the tree nearest the platform feeder, but there are no birds on that feeder. There was a goldfinch on that feeder a few minutes ago but it was there just a few minutes, then flew away.

Three birds outside my window on a quiet afternoon. The sky is gray and there’s a light breeze but there’s no rain, no reason I can see that there are so few birds. Where are the nuthatches, the chickadees, the cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds, nuthatches that usually crowd the platform feeder during the day?

There aren’t any robins on the lawn beyond the feeders. There aren’t even any house sparrows on the feeders or on the ground beneath them. I came to my desk thinking I’d write about the birds I saw outside my window, but one house finch, one cardinal, one goldfinch?

I look in the surrounding trees, searching for a Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawk, perched on a branch, waiting for a smaller bird to fly in. But there is no hawk, or if there is, I don’t spot it.

I look in the bushes along the road at the edge of our lawn. I don’t see a bird. I look in the trees across the road. Same story, no birds. I came to my desk without a bird in mind, a subject for an article. Now, after looking out the window for nearly half an hour, I still haven’t a subject to write about.

There, a bird just landed in the tree nearest the feeders. It’s a red-winged blackbird, a female. What’s a female red-winged blackbird doing at our bird feeders in the middle of the day this time of year? She should be on a nest out in the cattails of the marsh by our pasture, incubating eggs or flying back and forth to the nest, feeding nestlings.

I could move to the dining room and look at the birds on the feeders outside the window there. But the birds I expect to see are the same as the birds I expected to see at this window, house sparrows and starlings, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, cowbirds and male red-winged blackbirds, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, maybe a Cooper’s or sharp-shinned hawk.

I can go walk around our pasture and marsh. Out by the marsh, I’ll see birds, a pair of mute swans, red-winged blackbirds, male and female, common yellowthroat, maybe even a sora rail. But though it’s not rained today, it rained yesterday and the footing in the pasture and around the marsh will be muddy and slippery.

I can get in my car, put the windows down and drive, on county roads, country roads where there is no traffic of course, going slow and stopping whenever I saw or heard a bird. I’d see meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds. I should see at least one red-tailed hawk, a kestrel and a flock of turkey vultures. With luck I might hear, then, stopping, spot a Henslow’s sparrow. I might see a vesper sparrow or a Savannah sparrow, maybe both. I might hear and, if I stopped, see a dickcissel. I might see a loggerhead shrike.

In the air I would probably see at least one flock of turkey vultures, circling, wings tipped up, or feeding on a carcass, a roadkill, in or along the side of the road. I might see one or more sandhill cranes, most likely flying but perhaps standing in a field. I might see a northern harrier though I haven’t seen one in several years.

When I was young I used to ride my bicycle on country roads and look for birds. I saw more birds when I was on my bicycle than I do now from my car.

I might even hear a rain-crow.

Neil Case may be reached at neilcase1931@gmail.com.

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