Thursday, December 19, 2013

Every One is a Star!

I was out counting birds this weekend for the Christmas Bird Count and I caught myself calling out "oh, it's just another Mockingbird". And then I realized what a stupid thing that was to say or think. I mean, where do I get off dismissing any bird, whether it be Mockingbird, Wren, Cardinal, or Vulture as "just another (fill in blank)"? When did I get so jaded? They may be common, but they are anything but insignificant, boring or ordinary. Take the Mockingbird. To begin with, they are really beautiful with gray and white markings, a long tail, and a lovely curved beak with whiskers. But then if you add their ability to mimic sounds, then they get really interesting. I've heard the Mockingbirds in our yard mimicking Wrens, Titmice and Mississippi Kites. I read somewhere that they can mimic car alarms. They're really smart. And fierce. They will defend their nests, chasing off cats, hawks and gardeners,  and will remember the faces of individual people who bother them. So they're smart, fierce and beautiful, and definitely nothing to sneeze at.

Don't Mess With This Northern Mockingbird
And what about the Carolina Wren? Just a Little Brown Job? When you look closely at them, they are elegant and gorgeous! They have rakish white eyebrow and a basketweave pattern on their cocoa brown wings and tails, with cafe au lait breast feathers. They're beautiful! They are devoted parents and when they make a nest on your front porch (because they have figured out that it's worth the risk to nest near humans because of the protection they might get from other predators) you will see both parents taking turns sitting on the nest and going out to feed. When the chicks hatch, both parents head out to forage for caterpillars and bugs, but they are always watching carefully. And when there is any danger near, they will fly and scold. The males are soulful singers who will bring a tear to your eye with their sincere "teakettle" song.

Carolina Wren Singing His Little Heart Out
And Cardinals? Oh, yeah, them. Ho hum. Who cares? Everyone has Cardinals, right? Because they are so common here, we lose perspective. But they are really pretty extraordinary. We did not have Cardinals in Utah when I was growing up and I was blown away the first time I first encountered one in Wisconsin. I know for sure that if I saw SCARLET, CRESTED, SINGING birds like these while I was traveling in another country, I'd go nuts! Cardinals are amazing!
Male Northern Cardinal--Wowza!
Just a Turkey Vulture? How can we shrug off an eagle sized bird with a 4 foot wingspan that glides and soars gracefully in the thermals overhead? Just because they have that wrinkly red face. But their featherless head is a perfect adaptation for plunging their heads into carrion. No messy facial feathers to catch food! They rarely kill and defend themselves by regurgitating. Kind of sweet and peaceful, really. As scavengers they serve an essential role in the food web, cleaning up the dead things. In a place like Florida with so much roadkill, we should be pinching ourselves over our luck to have such an abundance of Vultures!

Turkey Vulture, Doing What They Do Best--Notice the Gorgeous Blue on the Wing Feathers
So, just a flock of Blackbirds? Or for that matter, just a skipper butterfly? Just a stink bug? Just a fly? Just a weed? Think again. Look carefully and get to know them, and remember that every one is a star.

Flock of Female Red-Winged Blackbirds

Ocola Skipper with the Cutest Furry Face 
White Spotted Stink Bug with Ruby Eyes
I Spy a Fly Eye on Goldenrod 
Just Another Weed? Or Beautiful Butterfly Magnet? Spanish Needles (Bidens alba)

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