When I moved to my 'treehouse' more than two years ago, I learned quickly that a habitat of animals and birds surrounded me. And this forest was all theirs. I just happened to have a home in the middle of it.
The first night, I woke to scuffling on the front deck. A huge raccoon showed up to ransack the small bag of garbage I forgot outside.
Within the first week, two deer strolled up the hill feeding on grass and sapling undergrowth. I was thrilled to see them just feet from the front door. They bolted when I smiled and said 'hello'.
And then there are the birds!
[L: white breasted nuthatch. R: goldfinch]
I've learned many of their chirps and calls and behavior patterns just from observing them on a regular basis. Fill a feeder near a window, grab a cup of coffee, and each day they will offer you something new.
The white breasted nuthatch (above left) walks down trees, circling trunks in search of insects.
Goldfinches (above right) hover together in large groups at feeders, often chasing off other birds twice their size. Their winter colors are dull compared to the bright plumage typical of spring and breeding season.
The male cardinal's sharp 'chip chip chip' is more demanding than the female's. Some couples even have their own melodies to communicate about nest building and meals. I've watched a male feed five fledglings at my feeder. The babies obviously had not been out of the nest for long and would travel to my feeder with the male. Once there, they would all chirp a demanding 'feed me feed me' to the male, but the moment he flew away they fell silent. Until his return.
There is the unmistakable 'peter peter peter' of the tufted titmouse. A striking steel gray and white bird with a regal little tuft of feathers on his head. They always favor the large peanuts at the feeder. One will quickly choose a nut and hold it firmly in its beak, then speed off to a branch to enjoy the meal.
Meanwhile the dark-eyed junco (below) typically hops along the ground feeding on small seeds that other birds have scattered during their comings and goings from the feeder. Juncos also enjoy foraging in leaf litter and fallen branches. It's common that I may see a dozen or more of them bopping around on the ground, especially after a fresh rain. (Below - a junco rests, fluffed up for warmth, in a nearby tree.)
And my favorite - the call that can wake me from a sound sleep - the 'who cooks for you, who cooks for you all' of the barred owl (below in summer). Barred owls mate for life and are known to inhabit the same territory - often less than six square miles - for their lifetime. As a spirit animal, barred owls represent wisdom in silence, the opportunity to observe and learn, and the chance to use your voice for its greatest purpose.
I am a far cry from being an ornithologist, but moment by moment, with the help of field guides and All About Birds, I've observed and learned. And my learning helps me appreciate the unique role each species plays in the larger system that is a healthy forest.
Beyond my woods, species are interdependent on each other and their habitats to survive and thrive. And just 15 minutes a day for a few days can help provide essential data for scientists around the world to understand bird populations, migration patterns and changes over time.
THE GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT
When: Feb. 16 - 19
Where: Your backyard
How: Just 3 Easy Steps - register, count, and enter your results
There are great educational resources available to engage young children. Plus, real-time maps to see what others are reporting in your area...or on the other side of the world.
Join thousands of people around the world, join me, join with friends for the 21st annual Great Backyard Bird Count!