Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bird Watcher

Every night that I take overnight call at the hospital, I call home just before bedtime to tuck the boys in bed. I ask how their day was, what they are doing right now, and if they have brushed their teeth. Monkey usually just yells and runs away from the phone, refusing to talk. If I can get him on the phone, he is usually silent, apparently answering all my questions with nods and shakes of his head.

Bug, on the other hand, will ramble on about what he did in school, what art project he is working on, how good he did on Wii Sports (shame on you, games before homework. I'm on to you and your "nice parent" ways.)

By far, the best conversation bedtime conversation with Bug happened a few weeks ago. I could hear him in the background, "Let me talk to Mom! Let me talk to Mom!" When he finally got the phone, I found out what was causing all the excitement.

"Mom, you'll never guess what I saw today! A male brown-headed cowbird. The only parasitic bird in Iowa! In our own backyard!"

That's right. My seven-year old is a bird-watcher. A fairly fanatic one at that.

When we first moved to Iowa, we noticed a lot of new birds. And I had no idea what they were. So, for his seventh birthday, Grandma got Bug a bird book. Thanks, Mom! Because that book has become Bug's favorite past time.

He pours over the book during the day, reading all about the seasons the birds are in Iowa, how big they are, the differences between male and female, what type of nests they make. The book accompanies him on walks, hikes around the lake, and nearly every car ride. The book is pretty well worn at this point. When he sees a bird, he instantly looks it up, checks it off the list, and tells us all about it. It's not uncommon to hear him shout from the kitchen, "Hurry. There's a white breasted nuthatch on the porch!" But it's not enough to just say, oh, look! A cardinal or a gold finch, or a blackbird.

No, he is must more methodical. He reports his bird watching success in the same manner that he told me on the phone. A male American gold finch. A female northern cardinal. A male red-wing blackbird. He does get a little frustrated with blue jays and common grackles, because the males and females look the same. He gets around this by saying "Come look at the male or female blue jay. Oh, there he or she goes." Lately, he has decided that doing the birds' full name is not quite enough. He's now working on the Latin names (which is extremely amusing.)

We've seen a lot of birds: Egrets, blue herons, bald eagles, barred owls, cardinals, grackles, blue jays, hummingbirds, nuthatches, swallows, woodpeckers, gold finches, wild turkeys, and even a vulture.

But Bug still has his eye on the prize. He has made a list of "Birds I Want to See The Most." Birds that made the list include the Baltimore oriole, the yellow warbler, and the rose-breasted grosbeak. But the most coveted bird sighting of all would be the scarlet tanager, a bird only found in Iowa for a couple months each year. Bug mentions at least every other day that he wants to see this bird.

So far, no luck. But we'll be on the look out all summer.


  1. What a fun hobby!

    And I can't tell you how jealous I am that you've seen bald eagles. I've never seen one in person and I've always wanted to.

  2. This is fantastic...what a smart boy! Mini #1 got a "state of the art" bird feeder and bird book. It is just one of North America and may be a tad over his head, so perhaps we need a more concise geographic range. Birds are fun to watch and I love that he has made a list of birds he wants to see the most!

    I am rooting for Bug and hope that he gets to see the Scarlet Tanager soon! It is a beautiful bird!

  3. How fun! That is a really cool hobby (no tv lucky momma, you) and cute to boot! Keep us updated on his sightings!

  4. What a beautiful bird... we actually saw Western Tanagers ( in my in-law's back yard here in Utah a couple weeks ago--they really are so beautiful! And it's amazing to see such colorful animals out in nature. What a great hobby for a young boy--good work cultivating such interests so young. :)

  5. I'd love to see a Baltimore Oriole or a bluebird. Your son reminds me a little of my youngest. For years he carried around a wildflower book - everywhere we went. Collected the flowers and put them in the book on the correct pages. Fascinating to watch.

    You sound like you have a very busy life. And a lovely one.

  6. Good for Bug and for you for encouraging it. We have Baltimore Orioles at our house and it's fascinating to watch them. Do you have a feeder up to encourage them? They drink the same as hummingbirds and you don't need to dye the water.

    Happy Potluck Friday.