Know Your Birds, Part 1

Black-capped Chickadee. The Chickadee is a constant companion flying very close to me while I'm in the yard. Their songs and calls are so varied they make my woods seem like they are filled with many species of birds when in fact, they are "talking" back and forth to each other in their complex language. When they are not eating the sunflower seed we put out, they are eating insects and spiders. Sometimes they will hide seed in different locations around the yard in preparation for cold weather. During the wintertime, they may find a home in tinny snow caves or small holes in dead trees. They fly from tree to tree in small groups, the more aggressive of the flock being the leader.
Sandhill Cranes. In the springtime, one of the things I look forward to is the call of the Cranes. I like how they seem to call the other flocks overhead as they come in for a landing. You may spot them hopping up, bobbing their heads, and spreading their up to seven-foot wingspan as they try to attract a partner.  This behavior is commonly called dancing and is one of nature's wonders. Once pair-bonding is established, it is for life. Their feathers are mostly grey but can also be rust-brown. Look for the bright red patch on their forehead that gives them that extra dash of elegance.
Bohemian Waxwing. Bohemians are such beautifully refined and elegant birds with their black mask and crest. Their soft colors of grey, brown, and rust seem airbrushed, and the dashes of bright yellow and red make this bird one of my favorite for style and pizazz.  In the summertime, they are more solitary, eating insects and berries. In the wintertime, they visit my ash trees in large flocks devouring any berries that are leftover from the visiting Robins earlier in the fall. Sometimes they may become intoxicated from eating fermented fruit and walk like a drunk sailor. During courtship, the male and female will puff up their feathers and sit close to each other. The male will then offer berries or flowers to the female to cement the relationship.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch. Nuthatches always seem to be in such a hurry. They come to my sunflower seed feeder and will proceed to toss seeds over the side until they find the perfect one and then will fly off to cache their treasure, wedging the seed into the bark of a tree.  These brightly-colored birds with the racing strip down the side will climb down trees headfirst looking for insects. Like the Redpoll, they can live for over seven years.
Common Redpoll. These colorful birds with their dashes of red fly in large flocks.  They especially like thistle or sunflower seed that has fallen to the ground. After feeding for some time, they will all of a sudden scatter to the shelter of the trees. They often store seed in a throat pouch so they can fly away and eat in a more sheltered spot. In the winter, they make tunnels in the snow to stay warm at night. Redpolls also keep warm by the thirty percent more plumage they put on in preparation for the freezing temperatures of winter.
Pine Grosbeak. When the Grosbeak flocks visit in the winter, they are a very welcome splash of red, rust, and orange. Like the Redpoll, they are also a finch only larger and slower in their movements. They will eat insects, berries, buds, fruit, and seed that has fallen on the ground.
American Robin. There is nothing like the sound of a Robin in the spring.  Starting in early April, I go out every day, anticipating their song.  Their song is like an announcement of all the amazing things to come in the north such as the greening of the land and the return of the migrating birds. Sitting on top of a spruce tree, he'll sing the last song of the evening as the sun goes down. The Robin keeps a careful eye out for predators as he sits on high looking out across the neighborhood. He is often the early warning system for all the other songbirds in your yard as they all keep a careful ear out for his warning calls. Robins will run and stop, run and stop carefully watching to see if an earthworm moves the ground. Like the Bohemian Waxwing, they will also get drunk on fermented berries.
Artwork by Douglas François Girard. You can order prints of your favorite birds, Alaska landscapes, and dancers at Please follow me on Facebook and Instagram @studiogirard