Finches and parakeets and hawks, oh my!

The birds who pass through my life

finch 1

Alert and perky at the beginning of the day.

The first year, it was a finch. It arrived all bright and energetic, tapped its little beak on my window and sat there on the sill, looking in for hours on end. It seemed to like my husband, who could get right up to the window and stare back. Usually in his office. They communed.

The second spring brought a male cardinal. More persistent in behavior, it began each day at dawn and didn’t stop until sundown. It sat on a pine branch and watched the window, then fluttered up to the top of it, beating the glass with its chest and wings on its five-foot descent to the sill. Over and over. Non. Stop. If I scared him away from one window –go eat, already!– he just chose another. I tried my tried-and-true pest deterrent on the sill: Irish Spring bar soap. Chunks of it keep the deer out of the pines and the raccoons off the deck, but apparently does not bother cardinals.

The third year it was an indigo bunting. His penchant, like the cardinal, was for east-facing windows. Though he didn’t go at it non-stop, so I guess he took some food breaks. He, too, favored sunrise. After days and days of this, even the cat didn’t want to see him anymore. I carried him into the room when the bird was active and showed him. He should have been interested, right? It was a bird; he was a cat. No such luck. Finally, I found a solution. I put the floor lamp inside his favorite window on a timer. It clicked on at about the same time he started in the mornings. It at least deterred him from waking me up; he just picked another east-facing window.

Fourth year, another (or the same) bunting returned.

And then there was this guy who sat on the railing and watched me eat lunch:

hawk on railing

the horizontal bar

See that horizontal bar on the window? Someone thought it looked like a good place to perch.

jump to window

Obviously, it wasn’t. It tried to hang on, but fluttered down to the lower deck. I’ve had enough birds over the years to recognize overheating when I see it. I couldn’t move it to shade, but I did creep out the door with a bowl of water and slid it across the deck in the hopes it would cool itself down. It watched me carefully, showed no inclination to move, and remained for hours.

This year, it’s a male bluebird. Our state bird. He prefers south-facing windows, of which I have many. Some of them are also bedroom windows, but he picks different ones on different days, so I can’t head him off with the lamp trick. Unlike the east windows, the southern ones have a horizontal crosspiece. Good for perching on and checking us out. He doesn’t like us too close, though. I had a bluebird house in the garage that was destined for a tree in the meadow; the only reason I hadn’t gotten it up was procrastination. So my husband and I put it up. No signs of activity in it yet. Maybe he wants it relocated? At least he doesn’t go from sunrise to sunset, so he’s probably eating and doing what male bluebirds do in the spring.

Don’t read “complaining” into any of this. It’s more concern for their welfare, curiosity at this sequence of behavior. I love the wildlife here. (Well, not what the raccoons leave on the deck overnight.) The birds seem to be males, so I’m pretty sure it’s a springtime, territory-defending behavior.
July update: It took a lot of trial and error to discourage this little guy’s wakeup calls. Eventually my husband suggested large paper cut-outs that looked like bigger, predatory birds. So out came the colored construction paper, pencil, and scissors. Then yarn and tape for suspending our newest birds in the windows. They sway slightly when the blower is on. No more sunrise visitations!

On the non-indigenous bird front, I acquired three parrots over the years. The two Double Yellow Head Amazons are not worth a long mention, as one preferred my husband and would threaten me vehemently if said husband was within reach. I mean, scary, feathers in full display, charging me with his beak open wide in the hopes of making contact, which he sometimes did. (And yet, I kept feeding the darned thing.) His “brother” preferred my daughter. I don’t think she cared one way or the other. He put up with me, let me trim his nails and wings. They each could whistle the Air Force song and thought it funny to flip into a somersault on the perches. From another room, with no one in sight of them, they carried on like a large cocktail party; a lot of adults talking and laughing indistinctly in another room.

But Shadow –oh, now there’s a bird I regret parting with. An African Grey parrot, he loved to sit on me for forty-five minutes at a time with a “please don’t stop grooming those new feather shafts or I might have to chirp very loudly in your ear” mindset. He was easy to potty train, and didn’t demand my endless attention unless he was on me, so I just enjoyed the company. He never bit, frequently wanted to feed me, and gave delicate kisses. He lived in a round, chrome-looking cage that showed off his powdery gray coloring and red tail, and was frequently allowed out to climb around on it and/or sit on top. He was very good about staying on that cage or his extra neighboring perch until I brought home a used brass square cage. (It was a good deal at a school sale, and I was thinking about splitting up the two Amazons because, as they reached sexual maturity, they’d begun squabbling.) I sat it on the floor in another room, awaiting cleaning, in Shadow’s line of sight (I realized later), and I kept finding him on it. Or walking across the floor to get to it. Once he’d seen it, he wanted it and nothing but it. My guess is that he was previously raised in a similar one, and that it was the shape he liked. So I bought him a nickel-colored square cage, and we both were satisfied.

I live way out in the ‘burbs (obviously), surrounded by woods, a state park, and a deck on which I can stand and see for miles. At one point, I thought it would be nice if a non-native bird landed on my deck and chose to live with me. I still had a couple cages on hand that I had accumulated, and if a bird wanted to join my life, I would be thrilled. Blue would be nice. A purple hyacinth macaw would be awesome (Do I think small?? Ha!), though I knew that if I rescued one of those, it would be easy to find its rightful owner. The call came one evening when my husband was out by the BBQ pit. Something like, there’s a bird out here! Well, yeah, every day. I hadn’t told him about my desire to “rescue” a bird, so when he mentioned it was blue and “one of those budgie things,” I grabbed a towel and ran outside. It was a female parakeet, on the small side, sitting on the railing. My first thought was that the BBQ pit was too hot to risk the bird moving onto it, so when she jumped down to the deck floor, I quickly covered her with the towel and gently moved her into an indoor cage. I named her Amelia, because she, too, had flown away and gotten lost. I called the Humane Society to inquire whether anyone had called them to see if their lost bird had been turned in. They laughed at me! They didn’t want my contact information. This was pre-social networks or I could have gone that way. So, she was staying. Over time, it became apparent that this was the dumbest bird I’d ever seen, and I don’t say that to be mean. When I let her sit on the outside of her cage, she could not figure out how to get back in, not even when I put food in her dish and she wanted it. Really. Not bright.

I wonder who will visit next year, and will it be annoying or entertaining? Either way, they bring enjoyment.

Update: September 2012

A noise at the window woke me early this morning. Guess which window. It seems the wildlife didn’t want to wait until next spring. I told myself that I love the wildlife, just enjoy it, and rolled over. Not for long. I heard a kitten in distress. Mind you, the window is three stories off the ground, but there is a stone ledge than runs around the house at that level. I have seen a four-legged critter once before on the ledge, outside the bathroom window. When it saw me, we both sort of froze. Dark, inside and out, just a little moonlight behind it, it was impossible to tell what it was. Could have been a young opossum, raccoon, or cat. It stood on its back legs and kind of leaned on the glass, leaving little smeary pawprints in its wake, to make an about-face and go back the way it had come. Pretty tricky on a four-inch ledge. So it wasn’t out of the question that a kitten could be out there, outside my window, and in distress. Add to that that my 17-year-old cat succumbed to liver disease ten months ago, it was very early, and I couldn’t stop myself from quickly jumping out of bed and running to the rescue. I pulled up the shade (while frantically hoping I didn’t scare the poor thing into falling off in fright), and what did I find?

A blue jay. A friggin’ blue jay, which hopped to a nearby tree and kept an eye on me. Not a kitten. Not in distress. Are they like mockingbirds? Can they imitate other animals’ sounds? I went searching on google, careful to select reputable sites. Not wikipedia.

Talented jay

From “Blue Jays have a wide variety of vocalizations, with an immense “vocabulary.” Blue Jays are also excellent mimics. Captive Blue Jays sometimes learn to imitate human speech and meowing cats. In the wild, they often mimic Red-shouldered and Red-tailed hawks, and sometimes other species.”

The one wild jay that can imitate a kitten … my house.


Update: Spring 2013

Again with the male bluebird. This year he has been from one end of the house to the other, fluttering around the windows. Today I found him on the lower level, doing the little birdie top-of-the-window-down-to-the-bottom flutter thingie. He isn’t as compulsive about it as have been visitors in the past; he actually stops, rests, and looks around. Easy to sneak up on while he’s turned away. Knock on wood, he hasn’t made crack-of-dawn visits.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. silver price
    Oct 22, 2012 @ 14:36:55

    So when winter was approaching, we placed a few bird feeders behind the main house. It didn’t take long for the birds to find them. One morning, after a snowfall, it seemed as if the birds were flying from all directions to grab a free meal. I always thought that birds sat on a perch & ate. But, I suppose when you are low on the food chain, you must grab & run, or in their case grab & fly. And it actually appears as if they do that. I observed five birds in a tree. The bird on the lowest branch of the tree was fist to visit the feeder, grab some seed & fly to the very top of the tree. All the others then descended down a branch to wait their turn. The next bird visited the feeder & repeated the circle of feeding.


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