Happy bird days

My own fan palm where lovey-doves live.

I WAS A birdwatcher when I lived in Texas. Not one of the nutty ones who’ll pack a bag of binoculars in a nanosecond to board an airliner to Peru on hearing that a pink-tailed titty-wacker had been spotted there. No, I was more casual about it.

My birdwatching areas were my yard, parks in Houston and at times National Wildlife Refuges, especially the one in Anahuac, which is not too distant from Houston. (An internet search reveals that most refuges are closed due to the Kung Flu, which is absolute nincompoopery. It’s out in the open air, for Pete’s sake!)

Here at the Hacienda I have a ceramic birdbath I bought near San Miguel de Allende, and it’s a popular watering hole that rests on the edge of the lawn patio.

I was sitting on the patio yesterday afternoon late in the day, enjoying the cool breeze, especially since the sun had fallen behind the house. It’s a sweet time. A bird landed on the property wall not 15 feet from me. At first I thought it was a freaking pigeon, formally known as the rock dove, the pest bird that’s a plague in cities everywhere.

But I noticed differences. It had a smaller head, was more attractive, and it sported a black mark on the back of its neck. It wasn’t a pigeon. I walked inside to get my bird book which revealed it to be a Eurasian Collared-Dove whose range, when the book was published almost 20 years ago, did not even include Mexico.

The book says the Eurasian Collared-Dove was a European import to the Bahamas way back when, and it had since spread to Florida and other parts of the southeastern United States. But nowhere in Mexico. The book also said the bird was spreading outside the mapped range. Well, yes, it has. This one has a spouse, and they seem to live in my fan palm. I spotted them high in the palm, lovey-dovey, a few minutes later.

We have birds here that I never saw in Texas, and some birds that are common up there don’t fly down here. A frequent visitor to my yard is the black-vented oriole. But I’ve never seen a cardinal. Curved-Bill Thrashers used to enjoy leaping amid the spikes of my nopal tree before I had that monster plant removed.

Pigeons are becoming a plague on the big plaza downtown, much more than, say, 15 or 20 years ago. They are being encouraged by nincompoops who sit on the plaza benches and toss food at them. We wrote the mayor once to point out the problem and request signs on the plaza saying, Don’t Feed the Damn Pigeons, or something like that. He ignored us. They nest in the attics of the colonial buildings and do damage.

My weirdest birding experience took place in the early 1990s. A friend and coworker at The Houston Chronicle, a fellow named James Colquitt Langdon, and I drove to the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge between Houston and San Antonio. The bird in question was endangered at the time, and a reservation was required.

The Prairie Chickens showed up at specific hours, and the way you viewed them was to sit inside a converted Porta-Potty that was placed in the middle of a field. Porta-Potties, of course, are designed for one visitor, but two people can squeeze inside, and it gets very chummy. Small peepholes were cut in the walls for one’s birdwatching pleasure.

Just imagine. Two middle-aged men sitting, calf to calf, shoulder to shoulder, for a couple of hours, inside a Porta-Potty — there was a board over the hole — in the middle of a field in the middle of Texas. What we do for the birds!

My bird book is National Geographic’s Field Guide to Birds of North America, Third Edition, and it’s about 20 years old, as I previously mentioned. You’d think National Geographic would know geography, but North America to this book is the United States and Canada. It does not include Mexico, which is North America too. Racism! I keep meaning to write them about this, but I never have. Where is Brown Lives Matter?

One of the best things about being a birdwatcher is to read bird names in the books. They can be fascinating and wonderful. Here is a little list:

Oldsquaw (Whoops! Better change that quick!)

Whiskered Auklet.

Black-Tailed Godlet.

Black-Backed Wagtail.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.

Plumbeous Vireo.

You could spend a whole afternoon just enjoying bird names.

15 thoughts on “Happy bird days

  1. Things do change in the bird world. Roadrunners are now endemic in our suburban neighborhood whereas I never saw one 20 years ago. But then we used to have cats, now they are gone. Those things are probably related.


    1. Creigh: Interesting. I love roadrunners. I used to spot them on rare occasion when I got a good distance south of Houston and into drier terrain. One of my fastmail addresses is roadrunner. Feel free to send me something.

      I bet a cat would have a hard time outrunning a roadrunner.


  2. Never heard of the pink-tailed titty-wacker, but I didn’t bring my bird book with me as it didn’t include Mexico, and I haven’t looked for one down here. I must do that and check that one out.

    I lived out in the country up north, and my kids where very interested in our local birds when they where young. We had many more birds in the summer, but a lot of smart ones went south in the winter, and I finally was able to follow them. One that always surprised me were the pelicans that made it to northern Alberta. They didn’t stay long, just to have the chicks, let them grow some, and head south. Some swans came all the way to the Arctic coast to lay their eggs.

    I will have to get that book soon.


  3. My daughter and I saw a roadrunner the other day in a heavily treed area of town. On the way back in the same area was a roadrunner-crossing sign. We didn’t notice the sign the first time as we were focused on the roadrunner. It was my 19-year-old daughter’s first time to see one. I think they’re pretty cool.


    1. Thirsty: Yep, they are very interesting birds. I’ve never seen one here, but they favor desert areas, and it’s no desert on my mountaintop. We’re very green except in springtime when the rain stops falling for months. But that still doesn’t make a desert. It just kills all the greenery.


  4. The Eurasian Collared-Dove fills the Rock Dove niche at the house with no name. They are as invasive as their cousins and far dirtier. I have hired gangs of roving boys to keep them out of the two Queen Anne palms. In truth, I do that duty. Being an invader myself, I should have a bit more empathy. But I don’t.


    1. Señor Cotton: Was that the bird you wrote about some weeks back on your blog? I’m guessing so. Well, I seem to have only two, and let’s hope it stays that way. Haven’t seen any indication of their being dirty, however. Hard to imagine any bird nastier than the rock dove.


        1. Señor Cotton: I have never had any birds make a mess here. The only ones who try now and then are the swallows, but I keep close tabs on those little buggers, and when they try to stick one of their mud nests anywhere, I knock it down immediately. The doves have done no mess so far, and if they do, I will deal with it ASAP. I am a stern taskmaster.

          When I had my monster bougainvillea removed last year, there was a pigeon/dove nest in there, which was one of the many reasons I removed the plant. I assumed it was a rock dove — never got a close look at it — but maybe it was one of those Eurasian things.


  5. A bird guy, who knew?
    Roadrunners are survivors, about 1/2 step past their dinosaur ancestry, vicious hunters, death on quail among other things. Got to know them well living in the Chihuahuan desert.

    Eurasian collared-doves will own your world if you let them. The white-winged dove has just about depleted the mourning dove in our part of Texas. Forty years ago there were none this far north.

    Changes, changes, changes!


  6. I used to go birding, but getting up so early in the morning and remembering all the damn names and the tiny differences among species finally got the best of me. In college, some professor used to take us to Jamaica Bay, by JFK airport, which was a real hotspot, particularly for all sorts of ducks, despite the airplane traffic. Also remember going to the Everglades, at the crack of dawn, and that was awesome; the place would be dead quiet and gradually you’ll hear a crescendo of all sorts of chirping and hooting, like someone turning up the volume on a nature documentary. Also those goofy-looking birds that were supposedly endangered at Aransas Bay by Corpus Christi. Sandhill cranes?

    I still have my binoculars and the Roger Peterson bird guide, but we don’t see many birds around the ranch, except for roadrunners which are quite common, and make me think of the “beep, beep, your ass!” cartoon with the roadrunner and the boxes of Acme-brand TNT, and the rabbit that always got away. Can’t remember their names either. I don’t know where the birds are around here; maybe they’re in lockdown too.


    1. Señor Lanier: Sounds like you were a more dedicated birdwatcher than I was. I never got up early for that pastime in spite of most birds being more active at dawn and dusk. If a fowl did not fit my schedule, he just didn’t get watched by me.

      So you have roadrunners in your area. I envy you for that. Been a long, long time since I saw my favorite bird.


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