Saturday, January 21, 2017

Hannibal And Noodle

Yeah, I don't remember.
I've complained before about my inability to recognize birds.  I'll no sooner get one solidly deposited in the memory bank than I see it again a week later and the best I can say is that I've seen it before. It's, you know--that one. That one. With the little thing on its--hold still, dammit. You know! That one.

Which is why I bake cookies for the Birdathon van. A person should contribute.

But it has come to my attention that many people, maybe even most people, don't see birds at all. They register only as flitters on the periphery, and unless they're making some kind of racket, they fly, as it were, under their radar. I realized this when my neighbor, who knew I had an affinity for the little fluffsters, reported with great excitement that he saw a pheasant in the tree outside my window.

So chalk one up for me: I did know enough to know he did not see a pheasant in the tree outside my window. He went on to describe a northern flicker, which is indeed a fine and fancy bird: a vest full of polka-dots, a necklace, an orange kilt, a red mustache. How my neighbor could have failed to notice such a large, snappy, well-turned-out bird before, even though it is dirt-common around here and perches on the wires going weeka weeka weeka and hammers on his chimney flashing just for giggles and looks like nothing else, not even a pheasant, I do not know.

So I have begun to appreciate that I have managed to accumulate some small measure of ID skills over time. I'm best at the fifteen or so species that are likely to show up outside my window. But I now recognize a ruby-crowned kinglet even when he's not showing his crown, and also a pine siskin, both of whom were mysteries to me not that long ago. I don't expect to gain a vast breadth of knowledge, but now I have a new aspiration. I want to be able to tell individual birds apart. You know, my birds. The ones in my tree.

I know it's possible because Julie Zickefoose knows all her birds by name, and their hat sizes, and whether they're drop-in people or she should call first, and everything. So when you're looking at the feeders on her deck, and ask what some bird is, she might say "juvenile semi-mottled snapplecrapper" or whatever, but she might also say "Oh, him? That's Fred." Fred looks a little different, or acts a little different. Fred has that arrogant cant to his shoulder, and a quelling eye. Julie knows. She's got something special in her pocket just for him.

Multi-Freds
But right here in the small birdscape outside my window, I'm starting to see individuals. I have a female house finch in residence who has cowlicks over both ears. She seems to be just fine but she has these little horns. So there's one. I probably won't be able to do this with my bushtits. If I hollered "Hey, Fred" to my bushtits, they'd all go off at once, and that's just a plain fact.

I thought my ability to distinguish hummingbirds would be confined to sexing them, which is easy, because of their hats. But there's way more going on than that. I don't like to cast nasturtiums, but this hummer that has dominated our feeder--Hannibal Nectar--is one rotund little ball of holy-hell. He has really packed on the grams. You fry up three of him and perch them on a bed of rice, you've got yourself an entree.

But then there's Noodle. She squeaks in any time Hannibal isn't looking. And she has the girth of a standard Ticonderoga pencil. She couldn't beat up Hannibal if she had brass knucklets, ten friends, and started last week. I'm accustomed to the proper size of an Anna's hummingbird, and there's variation, but I'm frankly worried about both of these. Soon Hannibal won't be able to lift off without dropping like a plumb-bob and Noodle could disappear in a shag carpet.

There's not only a size and coloration discrepancy. They act different. You know how non-cat people think cats are all alike? Right. Well neither are birds, as it turns out. Noodle always picks the port closest to the window so she can look out for the big jerk. She looks left, right, up, down, and then she lowers the hose in and sucks out everything she can. (Birds do not actually suck. They'd need lips, and they're all notoriously slim about the lips.) Hannibal comes way more often and drinks less at a time, because he knows he's in charge. He picks any port he wants and kicks back like he's in a recliner. But he's also the only hummingbird I've seen that makes a regular habit of checking out the nectar feeder from underneath. I know what he's doing. The fat little fuck is looking for Cheetos in the seat cushions.

Poor Noodle. She should be making a nest soon, and I hope she's real cozy in there, because that's one place she can get away from Hannibal. I'd love to bring her a welcome-wagon gift. Maybe a nice spider pot pie.

29 comments:

  1. I've got some less-than-spectacular pics of sunbirds if you're interested.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A spider pot-pie? Would that be sweet enough for a hummingbird?
    I've finally learned which of the birds around here is a wattle bird and the ones I've been calling wood pigeons are actually crested pigeons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They would LOVE a spider pot pie. The nectar is just for jet fuel. They eat spiders.

      Delete
  3. LOL...Murr, thank you. Just what I needed on January 21, 2017.

    Since joining my local bird club (mid-Atlantic area) I've learned that the tan-colored bird on the lawn stabbing the grass (catching ants?) is a Brown Thrasher, not a Wood Thrush; that the everyday chickadee at the feeders isn't a Black-Capped Chickadee, but a Carolina chickadee; and the bird that made that darling mini-oriole nest hanging in the fork of a wild witch hazel was a red-eyed vireo. The little scamp.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aren't those nests the very sweetest? The bushtits do that too. Good luck telling a Black-capped from a Carolina.

      Delete
  4. If they don't have a distinctive flight, call, or behavior they might be LBBs, Little Brown Birds. I have this acquaintance who fancies himself a great woodsman and hunter. When I saw the he didn't know the difference between ravens and crows I lost what little respect I had for him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or LBJs. Little brown jobs. Hey, even I can tell a crow from a raven! From a distance, even!

      Delete
    2. How? what is the difference? I know one is slightly larger than the other, but which one? Do they have the same cawing call?

      Delete
    3. Yeah, close up you can really see the raven's much bigger honker. And their calls are raspier. But even at a distance, flying, the crow's tail will be more straight across and the raven's will be sort of wedge-shaped.

      Delete
  5. Replies
    1. Mwah. Now run outside and see if you have anything in your pocket just for Fred.

      Delete
  6. I vowed that this would be the year I learn to identify gulls, which are one of my husband's obsessions. I have succeeded! I can now tell something is a gull (and not a flicker, for example) almost immediately! Without a scope!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yup. We recognise some of the individual birds who visit us here. Temporarily. It is usually based on missing feathers or occasionally on carefully arranged dirt. Obsessed? Whatever makes you think that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not obsessed. Absorbent. I mean obserbant. It's an excellent quality.

      Delete
  8. A universal bird call for you: "Hey, bird!"

    ReplyDelete
  9. I only know about five birds and now I find out through the comments that I don't even know those! From now on I guess I'll be calling them "biggish dark bird" and "tiny white and black bird" and (most useful) LBJ!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have trouble with sparrows. Even one of my bird books lists a whole page of warblers calling them confusing warblers. But you are correct on the personalities. Both the nutchatches and the wrens use there needle-like bills to insure they are the king of the feeders.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm still waiting for my golden-crowned sparrow to show up. Because I know him AND his call. I'm ready to pounce, bird-knowledge-wise.

      Delete
  11. Hannibal Nectar - hahahahahaha. I've been birding for fifty-umhumph years and will never be an expert. I, too, have trouble remembering visual and auditory details. I cycle thru my cerebral Rolodex to narrow it down and sometimes I'm right. At least now I have photos to help me after the fact.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes. I grab that camera right away. I won't be able to remember three field marks in the time it takes to get a field guide out.

      Delete
  12. That is what I recently photographed--a flicker! I was calling it a woodpecker, silly me! On my blog I just posted pics of a hummingbird that i got a couple feet from and he would not fly! I always just say "bird" as not great at identification.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're better than you think. Flickers are definitely woodpeckers!

      Delete
    2. And, they are colloquially called Yellowhammers. The hammer part I get, having heard one on the chimney cap. Old-time baseball announcers sometimes call crazy-looking pitches 'yellowhammers' because of the flicker's unusual flight patterns.

      Is it baseball season yet?

      Delete
    3. Here they'd have to be Redhammers.

      Delete