Bird ID

Though time-spanning years have weakened my far-seeing eyesight somewhat, I still enjoy watching what is there to be seen, especially in the world of avian creatures.

Though colours are often difficult to decipher, the size, shape and flight of the different species usually give me sufficient clues. Though I must admit, many of the warblers, and most of the smaller songbirds, have often been a mystery not mastered by my eyes at any distance. Nevertheless, it is the time of year that the lengthening of the daylight hours brings the so-called birders out to look, learn, listen and enjoy. As a result, my phone often enquiringly jingles and my e-mails are multi in dozens.

This past week, thanks to the popularity of modern technology, from a longtime reader of my column, and equal time friend, came two sets of pictures. One came about two days abreast of the other and were sent because his knowing of my interest. He was not wrong in the ID of either bird. But both stirred memories of long, long ago in my heart.

The first was a picture of a beautiful, fully mature bald eagle as it circled high above my friend’s residence in the village of Belwood. Its broad-tipped, widespread wings were accented by the cloudless azure blue sky, and to see its snow-white head and tail feathers shining bright in the noonday sun is definitely awe-inspiring.

The last time I saw one of these birds close up in southern Ontario was way back during my growing-up double-digit preteen years. We had just butchered a cattle beast on our farm for our winter’s supply of meat, and my dad, knowing I enjoyed watching birds, gave me the skinned head to hang up somewhere for the chickadees to eat the small layers of lingering fat. They loved it but they were not alone.

I had hung up the skinned head quite high up among the limbs of a huge, old, rough-barked black willow tree that wintertime slumbered at a precarious angle near the edge of the spring-water pond where we skated. About an hour later as I knelt quietly beside a small bonfire, warming my hands after shovelling snow from the ice, on hearing a peculiar sound I looked up and there it was. The most beautiful creature I had ever seen was pulling strips of flesh and gulping them down. A more fascinating creature I had never seen before. It is great to see these birds once again coming back to our area.

The second picture was that of an adult American kestrel, also known as a sparrow hawk, who, and I quote, “just had breakfast at my finch feeder.” Let me assure you that it was not birdseed he lunched on, and this too, brought back long-ago memories.

The Little Lady and I, in a much younger year, about midway between our first ten years of marriage, had one of these as a pet for well over two years. It was brought to us as a pigeon with a broken wing. As it turned out, on opening the box, it was an immature kestrel, having broken its wing chasing sparrows in someone’s farm machinery shed.

The fractured wing healed in less than a week, and as he could fly short distances, we removed the taped-on splint and released him. But he did not leave; each night he would sleep perched high up in the sway-backed lean-to that clung to the back kitchen of the ancient farmhouse in which we lived.

He fed himself on mice caught in the shed and house sparrows that flew in flocks from the barn, but on occasion, just to show off, and annoy us, he would chase after and catch a zig-zagging barn swallow in flight. He then perched on a nearby fence post and picked each and every one of the feathers off of his catch one at a time before eating it.

He stayed with us for two winters, showed up with a lady friend the following spring, stayed another week and then disappeared.

Perhaps the bird in the picture sent is one of his descendants.

Take care, ‘cause we care.




Barrie Hopkins