I am struck this morning by six grackles, who have arranged themselves in a kind of free-form still life pattern in one of our holly trees, sheltering against the persistent northwest wind, sustained at 11 mph and gusting to 32. The weak sun glinting through the branches makes their deep indigo heads and their bronzy wings vibrant.  Their yellow eyes stare, sharp and clear.  One moves occasionally, but the others have been sitting in the same spot for ten or fifteen minutes.  This is rare stasis for birds, who seem always on the move for some reason or other, and often leave at the same instant, spooked by some unapparent twitch or sudden movement in their surroundings or in one of them.  And as I write it happens—they vanish simultaneously in a heartbeat and without a trace.

About three weeks ago, I caught a vivid glimpse of two courting birds in the late afternoon sun.  They were chasing one another through the branches and up and down the trunk of one of our Pin Oaks, and their calls were melodious and distinctive.  I could see they were small woodpeckers, but couldn’t tell in the light and with their movement if they were Downy or Hairy Woodpeckers.  Whatever they were, they only had eyes for each other.  I checked with the excellent online bird identification websites and determined that they were definitely the Hairy species.  Their call, one of several sounds they make, all elegantly recorded and identified at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site, made the ID positive.  By now I am sure there’s a little clutch of Hairy Woodpecker eggs around here somewhere.

I have spoken of the neighborhood gang of several Blue Jays that bounces and jostles through the lower and mid-height branches of our backyard trees.  This is evidently part of their regular territory.  If they had spray paint and opposable thumbs (just about the sum total of assets possessed by human taggers) our Hollies, Lilacs, and other shrubbery would be ablaze in cryptic emblems.  Despite their bumptious, raucous manners and bad habits (they occasionally eat the eggs and nestlings of other songbirds) their energy, social complexity and vivid, pretty coloring makes them favorites for us.  Jane and I both loved them when we were kids in New England.  In Virginia we virtually never saw them in suburban neighborhoods until a few years ago.  Whether they are expanding their territory southward or the overall species has had a resurgence, they are now present where they were notably rare.  When they’re about they are always seen and heard.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.

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