A sure sign of spring is when the sociable little goldfinch shows up. Though smaller than sparrows, they look a lot alike until they begin to turn color. Then their yellows and gold shine through and they can easily be mistaken for wild canaries. It’s good to welcome them back.

Of course there are important reasons to greet all the migratory birds as well as the ones that stay year round. Don’t you wonder how the cardinals, doves, robins, and blue jays make it through the cold, snowy winters? Yet they keep our spirits up with their cheery calls.

What would we do without birds? Did you know that 96% of birds that live on land raise their young on insects? They protect us from spiders and reptiles as well.

In our own backyard this winter, we have seen a proliferation of rabbits. I don’t have anything against rabbits but thanks to the red-tailed hawks, a falcon or two, and Looie the Schnauzer, the population has been kept under control.

It is believed by paleontologists that the first flying reptiles lived over 235 millions years ago. According to the Ornithological Congress, the earth is home to at least 10,448 different kinds of birds. That will change as we find new breeds and others become extinct.

You’ve probably heard of Foster E. L. Beal, an economic ornithologist, and his computation that Iowa sparrows eat the equivalent of 196,000 bushels of weed seeds annually. He makes the point that birds provide thousands of dollars of weed control to farmers and homeowners alike.

No one can count the number of happy and rewarding hours we humans spend bird watching. If you are one of the millions who delight in this indoor/outdoor pleasure, you can help preserve our birds by eliminating pesticides, adding plants native to your location, and keeping your beloved kitty indoors. Domestic cats kill 1.4–3.7 billion birds (Nature Communications). 

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” mused the great American poet Emily Dickinson more than a century ago. For her and for many of us, birds have come to represent something much larger than themselves. Dickinson’s love of birds caused her to write about them frequently. For instance:

A bird came down the walk:
He did not know I saw;
He bit an angle-worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw.

And then he drank a dew
From a convenient grass,
And then hopped sidewise to the wall
To let a beetle pass.

Maya Angelou wrote:

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

Who doesn’t know Edgar Allen Poe’s:

The Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

Nothing further then he uttered–not a feather then he fluttered—

Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—

On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”

Then the bird said “Nevermore.”


I like this portion of Elaine Terranova‘s, Hummingbird:

What with foresight and dancing,

gypsies would seem to pass easily

between worlds. The hummingbird too—


only a moth with a beak—

Have I ever heard it hum?


Yet it’s everywhere welcome,

coaxed by red flowers, even sugar water,

for we are devious, in our desires.


And silly limericks like:

A woodpecker tapped on my door

complaining is beak was so sore

“Those lightpoles aren’t real

they’re made out of steel

don’t you guys cut down trees anymore?”


The general consensus regarding when it is best to feed the birds is that it really doesn’t matter. It makes sense to put food out when birds are migrating or when storms keep birds from their normal sources. Otherwise, just enjoy watching the birds. Sometimes you’ll be treated to unusual birds stopping by, and that makes the effort of feeding year round worthwhile.

Finally, Lewis Carroll wrote:

Little Birds are tasting
Gratitude and gold,
Pale with sudden cold:
Pale, I say, and wrinkled –
When the bells have tinkled,
And the Tale is told.



6 Responses to Birds

  • Glenn says:

    You’ve ignored my most favorite:

    The grackle’s voice is less than mellow,
    His heart is black, his eye is yellow,
    He bullies more attractive birds
    With hoodlum deeds and vulgar words,
    And should a human interfere,
    Attacks that human in the rear.
    I cannot help but deem the grackle
    An ornithological debacle.
    …Ogden Nash

  • Out for a deadbolt, light bulbs
    and two-by-fours, I find a flock
    of sparrows safe from hawks

    and weather under the roof
    of Lowe’s amazing discount
    store. they skitter from the racks

    of stockpiled posts and hoses
    to a spill of winter birdseed
    on the concrete floor. How

    they know to forage here,
    I can’t guess, but the automatic
    door is close enough,

    and we’ve had a week
    of storms.

    Ted Kooser

  • Mike says:

    We feed the birds all winter – seeds as well as suet for Woodpeckers. It is time to stop. The grackels and starlings have taken over the feeder. Unfortunately, they are so aggressive they chase all the nice birds out. The also stay around as the food passes through. I don’t need the mess.

    • I’m not an authority on how to keep undesirable birds away but I’m pretty sure suet encourages them. Next year ditch the suet and try sunflower seeds (hard for grackles and starlings to crack) and finch food.
      PS: Have you read how intelligent crows are?

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