Bird Watching

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
article image


Since the Spring wildfire (one year ago) has burned all around us for miles, it left us in the middle of a small oasis of green. The birds that survived the wildfire have migrated back to black trees and scorched earth in many places. The wildfire destroyed such a vast area that the birds are seeking places to nest and raise their young which brought them to the only nearby spot of green with live trees – our property. While we initially lacked birds migrating back, we are now surrounded by an abundance of birds. 


I have never considered myself a bird watcher but with so many coming for refuge to our homestead it is hard not to notice them and their entertaining ways. One family of fly catchers has nested on our electric meter for years and we had been wondering if they survived. It appears they did; the nest is built and the mother fly catcher is hatching her eggs just like in past years. (see photo). Even though the electric meter has been changed from last year they still constructed their nest on top of the new addition.

Extreme Heat and Combustion: 

I was recently informed by one of our park officials that the National Weather Service monitored the intensity of the wildfire and according to their equipment the wildfire registered 4,100 degrees. We saw video footage of homes combustion into flames due to the intense heat well before the main fire even arrived. That did not bode well for the birds and animals who would have perished long before the fast moving wildfire actually reached them. 

Indicators of Birds Perishing From The Wildfire: 

Conditions like this make it devastating for birds who stood little chance of escaping a fast moving and extremely hot wildfire. A good example is that each summer by this time we usually have 50 or more broadtail and rufus hummingbirds migrating back to our home. This year we have roughly 10 broadtail and no rufus hummingbirds. 

Many Species Of Birds: 

We have many varieties of birds: house wrens, fly catchers, robins, grey headed juncos, stellar jays, grey jays, western tanager, brown creeper, hairy woodpecker, flickers, Williamson’s sapsucker, rosy finch, yellow rumped warbler, black headed grosbeak, mountain chickadee, nuthatch, Clark’s nutcracker, various owls, raptors, ravens, crows, blue grouse, wild turkeys and possibly several other species I have neglected to include. 

Attracting Birds To An Area: 

Even with much of their prior habitat now fully destroyed they have heavily populated our small area. We have done much to attract birds to our immediate area in the past but the wildfire has amplified their proliferation in ways we have been unable to fully accomplish. We have selectively removed trees and low limbs to provide them corridors to fly safely through. We have two year-long springs which provide water and there are plenty of insects for them to eat. They manage to keep our insect populations in check and we are still hoping that the bats that have used our roosting box for many years will return and consume the mosquito population that has suddenly blossomed. 

Symbiotic Relationship: 

We put out bird food and suet for them in the winter which helps keep the yearly birds around. Our relationship with the birds is symbiotic in as much as we provide good habitat and food for them and they keep our insect population under control. During this time of year we do not cut any standing trees for fear of knocking a nest from adjoining trees. Most of the birds are able to hide their nests very well and we don’t want to disturb their nesting activity that we may fail to observe. 

Learning From The Birds:

We have also learned many valuable lessons from observing the birds and their activity. Their aerobatics when after flying insects are amazing to watch. The level of care they provide the young chicks is impressive. They force them from the nest by stopping/slowing their feeding and the young birds then fly off to be on their own. The parents will stay with them for a few days to make sure they can take care of themselves before sending them off into the world to fend for themselves. The chickadees will take turns in the winter taking one sunflower seed at a time where rosy finches swarm the feeder in large numbers that restricts their getting adequate food.  

How Humans Can Be Quickly Trained: 

With the exception of the fly catchers who nest by a door we use regularly most birds will fight to protect their nest. The fly catchers are used to us and they just watch us as we go in and out of their area. When the feeder runs out of sunflower seed in the winter the chickadees will come and light near us and chirp until we refill the feeder. Sometimes the nuthatches will do the same. They can be quite persistent until they get more food; it didn’t take long to train us. 

Avid Bird Watchers:

I have friends who are avid bird watchers and go in groups to watch, photo and catalog various birds. We are just regular homesteaders  who tend to watch the birds as we perform our tasks outside. Like any species, watching them in their normal activities is educational and informative. We are especially impressed by their exhausting care of the young birds.

Bird Songs All Day Long: 

Perhaps it is because we are mostly isolated that we derive so much entertainment by observing the birds. Now that their habitat is more constricted we are seeing many more than usual. We had previously attracted birds to our property but because of the wildfire we now have far more than we could have ever imagined. Their early morning songs are a beautiful way to wake up and they continue the songs throughout the day. 

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their longtime dog Bozwell please go to their personal blog site

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.