The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Enid Features

August 6, 2013

Bird watching

Are you a bird watcher? Think about it.

When I was a kid at home, and even after I had grown up and left home, we had mockingbirds that resided in the huge hay barn across the road from our home. Daddy would go to that barn in the pickup each morning and load hay to feed the livestock. When he drove back home, that mockingbird perched himself on the mirror of the pickup and  took a ride. That went on without fail. The mockingbird nested in an old, huge, pink rose bush where the cats and snakes and varmints could not reach their nest. They supplied many incessant, happy hours of songs for our family from a high perch on the barn.

And when I was a kid, our house had a big, screened back porch. Inside that porch was a washstand with a bucket of water, wash pan and towels, as every farm home had back then. When Mother came in from picking blackberries, she would take off her overalls and hang them on the back porch, on a hook that was there for that purpose. (I might say here that ladies wore dresses back then, and if they did heavy outside work, they put on overalls OVER their dresses.)

Well, a pair of house wrens made a nest in those overalls. They entered the back porch through the tiniest little crack above the screen door where the screen had settled. We kids went through that porch a million times a day, stopping to get a drink from the water bucket or to wash our hands, and those little wrens just continued to feed their babies and were not the least bit afraid of any of us. They returned year after year and seemed to know that was home.

Killdeers laid their eggs in the middle of the road going from the main road to our house. Mother made a sign to detour traffic around their nest that said “Bird Crossing.” We all protected that spot until the little  birds hatched. When they hatch, they look like little cotton balls on toothpicks and leave the nest real soon.  They are a joy to watch, and to observe their mother protecting her eggs and little charges by pretending her wing is hurt, drawing attention away from danger.

Is it any wonder that I love birds so much?  We always had so many birds around the farm, where there was always a good supply of seeds, food and water. We learned their names and a lot about their nesting habits from Mother, who was constantly observing and enjoying birds. We watched  Baltimore orioles weave their nests in the lower branches of the large elm trees. In fact, my brother gave me an oriole nest  made out of our horse’s tail and mane. We can tell by the colors. I put it in our Christmas tree every year for good luck.

We have sat at our kitchen window, looking  out on our small backyard, and have seen many kinds of birds at one time at our feeders. We have king birds, wrens, house finches, doves, cardinals, chickadees, cat birds, red-winged blackbirds, bluejays, woodpeckers by the dozens, hummingbirds, robins, tufted titmouse,  gold finches and, of course, sparrows, grackles, starlings and juncos. An occasional brown thrasher shows up, and once, a painted bunting spent the day.

It is fun to watch the Baltimore orioles try to perch on the hummingbird feeder and drink nectar. They drink upside down. We finally got a jelly feeder and those orioles eat two large jars of grape jelly a week. That jelly also attracts the catbirds and cardinals, and I guess anything that likes fruits. They don’t care a thing about strawberry or plum, but they sure go after purple grape jelly. We enjoyed watching the father oriole teaching the young birds about jelly, by calling them to him and placing jelly in their mouths until they got the hang of it.  

This year, we have already had one nesting of wrens. We did not get a blessed thing done the day those tiny fledglings left the nest and flew away. They live in  a house made from a gourd that my brother grew and gave us. I whittled a hole the size of a quarter in the side and hung it on our patio. The very next day, wrens took residency. We have had two nesting each year for many years. They must really like it — and us.

We keep feed in the feeders at all times, and water in the birdbath. We do not have many cats in our neighborhood, so the birds have little to fear. We have our sweet dog, but he loves the birds and they are not afraid of him at all. He seems to enjoy them right along with us.

There is only one thing that will make bird watching more enjoyable, and that is to have breakfast on the patio while they are coming for their morning snack. I suggest you bake this cake to enjoy with your coffee. One of the perks of Jim going to his physical rehab is that the conversations turn to recipes sometime during our visit. This week, Jane shared this recipe with me, and I know you will enjoy it. Those who don’t make it and those who don’t enjoy bird watching are missing two of life’s greatest joys.  

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