Happy bird days

palm
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.

My humming amigos

THE FIRST TIME I recall seeing a hummingbird was one morning as I was sitting on the porch of a cabin at a Unitarian retreat center in the mountains of North Carolina. A hummer paused briefly at a bloom not far off. It was exciting.

Years later, after I purchased a ranch house in Houston, Texas, I discovered that hummers migrated through the area every Spring — or was it Autumn? I hung a red, plastic feeder in the backyard, and they were frequent visitors. I liked that a lot.

Hummers don’t much like one another. They are fond of brawling, but there are exceptions. Once I visited Ramsey Canyon in southeastern Arizona. Good Lord! There were hummers all over the place, scores, maybe hundreds, sitting side by side on tree branches just as peaceful as you please. Maybe they were nectar-drunk.

Even more years later, I found myself atop another mountain, here where the Hacienda sits, and there are hummers in residence. No feeders required. Hummingbirds are in the yard all year. Maybe they take a break in the winter. My attention can wander.

hummerOur huge aloe vera plants put out big, orange blooms. The red-hot pokers are hummer favorites too, plus other flowers of spring and summer. All I have to do is sit atop a rocker on the downstairs veranda or on a web chair out on the yard patio, and there they are, foraging hummingbirds.

Back at the Houston ranch house, high on a backyard tree, I installed a bat house I’d purchased from Bat Conservation International. I knew there were bats in the neighborhood because summertime night walks down the street would show their presence as they flitted in and out of the lights atop the street poles.

But not one ever moved into my bat house, which I’d bought with good money.

Here at the Hacienda, however, we have bats. They live in the clay roof tiles of the downstairs veranda, leaving their bat poop on the ceramic floor in certain corners and flying out, sometimes quite near my head, at dusk. Whoosh!

I don’t know which I like better, bats or hummers. Maybe it’s a draw.