Bird Brain

20 Sep

It’s a race against the birds and the stamina of my camera-holding arms. Can I stand here, poised and ready, long enough to actually catch the birds at the feeder, or will I wilt under the pressure of gravity and my muscles and miss the perfect shot? So far the birds are winning.

A beautiful male, come for a bite to eat.


The Baltimore orioles are fattening up for migration. I’ve had about five pairs this year, and I love them. They arrive in the spring along about the second week. Well, okay, May 9, 10 or 11, to be exact. (I’ve kept records of their arrival for the past 6 years. Yes…I’m THAT kind of birder. I think I may have better bird arrival records than shot records for my children. Good thing the doctor’s office keeps records of their own.)

For a month or so I see them daily as they eat me out of grape jelly, greedily gobbling the glistening mounds of sugary fruit. Mountain orioles come to the jelly too, and cat birds, and house finches and even robins fight for the purple goodness. The grocery store puts grape jelly on sale and I buy four jars at a time, receiving quizzical looks from the non-ornithologically-minded clerks.

Lovely birdies en masse.


I hear the orioles through my open windows before I see them and it takes a time or two each spring for my mind to register what I’m hearing, full as my world is of random noises, electronic bears and cats fooling me into actually looking on the deck for the poor distressed kitty while my children laugh hysterically that they fooled Mom yet again. (Yes, I fell – more than once in my youth – for the “gullible is not in the dictionary” joke. You’d think a girl would learn.) But the oriole song eventually breaks through the white noise in my brain and I raise my head – slowly, non-threateningly – and look out the deck door to the pie tin I nailed to the rail the year we moved here and which has survived storm after storm for 6 years now.

There they are. Orange. Black. Glorious. God’s gift to spring-hungry Minnesotans.

I gaze, transfixed, and woe betide the child who races upstairs, lungs expanded, in mid-inquiry, “MOM?”
“Quiet.” I whisper. “Be still. Hush now, and come look. See the dear little things?” Lucy calls them Jelly-Birds and I like that.

More beauty of the season.


We never take the orioles for granted because we know how brief their visit will be. Every time we spot them, child or adult, we quietly call for the others to see. We bask in their presence, are blessed by their melody, amused by their antics. Katie thinks it’s unfair that the females are so pale and dull. I agree, aesthetically, the women have been gyped, though I know God had His reasons.

A gyped female. Still, I love her!


During the middle of the summer, the orioles are nowhere to be seen; too busy raising their family to bother with such frivolities as entertaining the humans. Then, like bookends to the season, they come back for my jelly along about the last week of August, scoping out the neighborhood for sustenance once again. The pie tin is long-since empty by then, and they hop hopefully to the edge of the plate and let out a tiny chirp, a small inquiry, a subtle reminder that they still exist and they deserve some jelly-love to fatten their bellies for their long haul south.

I love this last sight of them, love hearing them squabble over the best bites of jelly. They fight each other off, the greedy things, and I can’t help but laugh, though I dread what’s coming: long, white months of bird-less, soul-less cold.

Another bird that's fixin' to fly away. These pelicans are so great. I love seeing them all summer long.


I wonder if some housewife in Mexico appreciates my birds the way I do. Surely their color alone is enough to stir the coldest heart to smile? Each time I see them for that week or two at the end of the summer, I wonder if this is my last sight of them, my last glimpse until next May. But I never know if it’s the last time – how could I? Then one day I realize it’s been a week or more since I’ve seen them and a small stone of sadness settles into my stomach.

They’re gone now. The geese are fixin’ to follow. It’s fall, loathe though I am to admit it.

Goodbye, little friends. Hurry back.

QUESTION: What creature brings a smile to your day each time you see it?

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6 Responses to “Bird Brain”

  1. Kimberly Robertson September 20, 2011 at 8:13 am #

    Bright, squawky and snarly blue jays. They terrorize my little dachshund and remind me spring has sprung. In the winter, it is the deer prints in the snow which delight my heart. I know they will ravage any attempt at a garden come spring. However, in the quiet, cold stillness I see them and know they, like me, long for the sun again.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 20, 2011 at 10:54 am #

      I enjoy a nice, loud blue jay, too! And they’re so fun to hear. They don’t seem to hang around my house…though they show up sporadically all winter long, so they’re somewhere near. I know what you mean about the deer…lovely…so long as they’re leaving my veggies alone. 🙂

  2. Jenny September 20, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    For our family it’s the Turkey Vultures and when you see them you know the Rufous Hummingbirds will be back also. Turkey Vultures may be ugly and smelly but they are cool birds! The beginning of March is when we first see them. The Bald Eagles are here year round and they are really fun to see but our largest commuters and our smallest ones are my favorites! You know Spring is almost here when they show up!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 20, 2011 at 11:10 am #

      It seems like every year we have more turkey vultures here – maybe I just am finally noticing them! I tried and TRIED to get both eagle and vulture pictures last week…both are migrating through…but I need a better telephoto lense, I guess. They hang out on these dead cottonwoods to the east of us and it’s so cool to see them…but they’re just a little bit too far! But at least they remind me of Orcas! I’ve been trying to get blue heron pics, too…but they’re too fast and wiley.

  3. alison September 20, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    I have a bird feeder outside my living room window. I never get tired of watching them.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell September 20, 2011 at 11:51 am #

      Hey, Alison – me, too. Sadly, they’re gone for about 5 months of the year around here. Some years a few stick around, but not always.

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