Monday, May 6, 2013

Every winter when I clean out the birdhouses here at Masterworks I look forward to all the interesting things I might find.   When I opened up the house by the garden that normally houses three nestings of bluebirds, I got several surprises!  First of all, sadly, there were unhatched eggs in the nest from last year.  It is not surprising.  If I remember correctly, toward the end of the nesting season the tempertures were in the high 90's and we were in severe drought.  Things were just too hard for the little birds to bring more babies into the world.  Or maybe they cooked!
The next surprise was that actually the eggs were not bluebird eggs, but rather they were some little brown slightly speckled eggs.  From my birdnest book, they appear to be house wren eggs.  House wrens are known to line the nest with "plant fibers, rootlets, fibers,  hair and feathers".  This one had a LOT of feathers in it and I don't remember ever seeing that many in a bluebird nest before.
Which leads to the third surprise.  Something was shimmering.  As I studied the interesting spot, it appeared to be coming from a feather.  Not just any feather.  It looked just like something I've seen before, a peacock?  Yes, it looked just like a miniature peackcock feather!  It was all weaved into the nest along with the others.  As you see in the picture, a cardinal feather was in there with it!
There are some peacock's about a mile down the road.  Did the feather just blow over onto our property?  Had the bird spotted it down the road and carried it all the way to this nest?  Had the bird found it and saved it for a special day? 
Birds are so special!  They entertain us with their songs, their activities and their physical beauty.  Do they also appreciate special things as we appreciate them?  I know it is not likely.  But I just can't help but wonder if there isn't a little house wren out there that has a special eye for decorating that found that feather one day and got excited, showed it to her mate and brought it to the little nest with excitement!  If she is out there, I hope she and all the other little feathered "treasure hunters" out there find many more wonderful things to put in their nests this year.  I look forward to seeing what they find again next winter!  Thank you little birds!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Grail Bird

In 2004 there was a confirmed sighting of an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in Arkansas. A man named Tim Gallagher from Cornell University, who had been tracking it for decades, read about a strange woodpecker sighting on a canoe club website, followed up on it and sure enough there it was. Previous to this discovery, it had been since 1944 that the bird had been spotted. Tim Gallagher wrote a book "The Grail Bird" about his search for and eventually finding the bird and his hopes for “one final chance to get it right, to save this bird and the bottomland swamp forests it needs to survive."

Here on the grounds of MasterWorks Studios we occasionally see a similar bird, the Piliated Woodpecker. John was on his way out to work on a bronze restoration project one January day and was able to snap this picture of the bird feeding on the suet feeder outside his shop window. The Ivory-Billed woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America with a wingspan of 30 to 33 inches. Our Pileated, the second-largest, has a wingspan of 26 to 30 inches. There are other visual differences in the birds’ appearance like the white and black markings on its face and neck.

There are at least two of the Pileated woodpeckers that have flown over and fed on our property since we moved out here over ten years ago. Like the bluebirds, we did NOT see this bird when we lived in the city and it was a treat to see the first time we spotted it! It has a distinct call too, almost seems primitive and a little eerie, but cool and we are so lucky to have it around! We wish some day we could see some babies!

Webster Dictionary defines “grail” as “the object of an extended or difficult quest” so after spending 30 years looking for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker I’d say it was an appropriate word to use in naming his book. It was encouraging news to hear of the validated sighting of the Ivory-Billed bird not only to Tim Gallagher but even to people that were only remotely interested in birds and wildlife! It was a symbol of hope that maybe all the horrible, discouraging news we hear about our environment isn’t the only side of the story. Maybe there is still hope!

As the Ivory-Billed was a welcome site to Tom a few years ago, our Pileated is always a welcome site to us and symbolic of our personal hope and trust in the future. We don’t see it very often but it makes itself known often enough that we know it is there. It reminds me that this time of year, when winter is lingering and days are gray day after day, week after week, we know spring is out there and will return. Flowers will bloom, trees will re-leaf, the ground will dry out, life will go on……

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bird Gifts

From the time of the first cave people, we've been transforming bird images into artwork and putting them on items in our everyday lives. We've drawn them on dirt walls and pottery, weaved them into baskets and fabrics, painted them onto airplanes, billboads, kites and cars, hats and shirts and yes, even matchbooks. I am a lucky person. Not only do I have the awesome outdoor birds here at MasterWorks Studios to observe and entertain me, but I have awesome sweet human friends that give me bird "things" for my indoor collection!

I have birds on my walls, desks, tables and nightstands. It'd be safe to say they are in every room. Images of birds are on my coffee mug in the morning, on my singing bird clock throughout the day and on the walls of my halls.

Why is it we are so fascinated with birds? I believe it is because they are like works of art - beauty for the eye, ear and soul. And they can fly! I'm sure I'm not the only one that has had dreams of flapping my arms until I get them going fast and strong enough to lift me off the ground! Ann Murray sings "and if I could you know that I would fly-ey-ey-ey-ey....away with you!" In the Caribbean song "Yellow Bird" the singer laments "Yellow Bird, You can fly away in the sky away, you're more lucky than me...I wish I was a Yellow Bird, I'd fly away with you!"

Birds are living miracles. How do they live outdoors in below-freezing weather? How do even the tiniest of them fly for thousands of miles every winter and return to the same tree every spring? How does each one have its own beautiful song, totally different from all the others? There is nothing like the song of a bird for hope and insipiration and soothing of the soul. Emily Dickinson states it so eloquently on a bird bookmark I received recently:

Hope is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without words
And never stops at all.

God, thank You for the beautiful gift of birds. And thank You for the beautiful gift of friends that bring joy to my heart and bird gifts to enjoy inside on this cold cold day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Each has it's Own Talents

This evening while I was getting ready to feed our dogs, Chip and Birdie, I heard that distinctive but rattling call. It was out on the top of the owl house - where lots of our bird visitors like to perch. The Belted Kingfisher was enjoying the cool evening as he happily preened and fluffed himself. He was quite content until he noticed me with my camera. I was obviously interrupting his ambiance as he would stop and stare at me every time I moved. Pesky people.

Besides the distinctive call and of course the obvious tufted head, the kingfisher also has another unique trait. It is one of those few birds that can hover over its prey until just the right moment then plunge headfirst into water to claim its reward. In the many years we have lived here on the grounds of MasterWorks Studios, I have NEVER seen the bird do this. All my bird books say it is true though, and I believe it. The books also say that the birds often live near streams and perhaps they use the hovering technique as they roam up and down the stream. Here on our property they fish from a pond so just sit in one place until they see dinner.
Whatever the case may be I always enjoy seeing this bird. It is different. It is a loner. The sources say it nests in the same cavity every year and I have never seen that either. It is elusive. We don't all follow the flock and please the crowds. Some of us just like to mind our own business and do our thing. But it doesn't mean we don't have talents! Each has their own gifts!! I appreciate you little bird, even though I scared you away. Come back any time!

Monday, August 17, 2009


Last time I wrote about the wren's building a nest in the house outside our computer window. It was interesting to watch the process so closely. The building activity slowly changed to signs that there were eggs as the female did not come out as often and the male would bring her little bugs all day long while she sat. Eventually we heard little peeps and twitters (the real kind!) and we knew the endeavor was a success.
For days the wren parents fed their babies from the time they awoke in the morning until they finally rested at sunset. Occassionally we would see the little open mouths at the entrance hole as parent would approach and every day the mouths stuck out farther. One day, two or three weeks after the feeding had started I was lucky enough to be present for a very special event.

The wren parents were not around. Various little beaks would stick out of the hole then retreat. But one little beak kept sticking out farther and farther and staying out longer. Eventually I saw the eyes, then the entire head of this bird. It was more than a baby, it almost looked full grown! If I moved it quickly retreated so I stayed very still and slowly more of the bird emerged. The picture on the right shows half of the bird exposed and I believe this was a magical moment. I don't know exactly how birds process information but if I may personify for a moment - wow! It's first eyes on the world outside of it's safe little world inside the box where food is served all day and it is warm and cozy with other hatchlings cuddled up next to you! It was obvious it was feeling the urge to jump out. It was making little motions just like the ones a perosn makes the first time they jump from a diving board. Yes, I'm going, No I'm waiting. Going. Waiting....going...going.....NO GOING!!!!!! The little bird took off and zig zagged to the nearest cedar tree. It could fly!
By now Mom and Dad had noticed the escape and hovered around. They found the brave little soul and continued to feed it and the babies in the house until after a few days they had all taken their maiden journeys.
It happens thousands of times every summer - baby birds leave the nest. But that day, as I shared the event with that special one I felt just like it must have felt. As that bird left the nest, soon I will be entering the world of job searching and I am just as cautious as that little bird seemed to be. It is a huge world out there full of unknowns. But I know I have to go. I will jump out and will probably zigzag like baby wren. Hopefully I will find a safe haven like it did and fly away strong and happy...not looking back but forward into a new adventure! Good luck to you little bird and good luck to me - God is with us both.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Nest Building Up Close

Recently I was reading an article from National Geographic titled “Minds of their Own - Animals are Smarter than You Think.” Of course they are, I've know that for most of my life. But the ways they learn are very complex and so very interesting. One of the cases cited was about a story we’ve followed for years about Alex the African Gray parrot that worked with Irene Pepperberg for about 30 years. The bird learned names for multiple combinations of shapes and colors and communicated appropriate words at particular situations as when other birds in the lab were practicing sounds and Alex would bolt out “Speak Clearly”!!” Yes, this is all true! Information gathered about HOW learning happens in the Alex studies was later applied to DVD learning modules for children suffering from autism. A truly awesome and inspiring story.

Starting about one week ago we had our own little demonstration of bird analytic skills and amazing feats right outside our computer window. One day while John was taking a break from bronze restoration he painted and put up the wren house in the picture above. After chasing off some wasps and bumblebees that tried to make this their new home, a pair of wrens found the little chalet and started building! It has unbelievable to see how tenacious these birds are. At daybreak they are up and at it and hardly take any breaks through the day (except for a quick song or two as illustrated by the photo on the right). Even though the temps were in the 90's last week they kept a steady pace. I wish the house was glass so we could watch the progress inside.

One of the most interesting things, that we never see when observing from a distance is that some of the twigs the birds bring up to put in the house are MUCH longer than the width of the hole. See top picture. We figured the male must have built before - he started off pretty savvy about getting the sticks sideways to push them through. But the little female must have been a first-time builder. She would come up to the hole with the too-long twig crossways and push her tiny body against the hole several times, turn around, try again, twist, contort and sometimes get it in. Sometimes she would just drop it in frustration but by the end of the week she figured out how to slide it in sideways - she became a pro!

By Sunday it seemed the birds had started bringing in softer materials to line the nest so I brushed out our dogs and left tufts of hair around the area. Soon they will start laying eggs and a whole new chapter begins. I can't wait to see fuzzy little baby heads sticking out of the hole but most of all I can't wait until winter when I can clean out the house to see this awesome creation that has taken over 100+ "bird-hours" to assemble!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bird Nests

Here it is June and again I am behind on the blog. WAY behind! Not that there hasn't been any bird activity - in fact there's been LOTS of that!

John is down at the studio working on a little bronze restoration and I thought I'd take a minute to take photos of these two bird nests I found while cleaning out the houses on the grounds here at MasterWorks in February. Did you know that there are about as many different nest styles as there are kinds of birds? There are even field books printed to help you identify nest and eggs. Many people have seen the neat hummingbird documentary that goes around the internet that shows the thimble-sized little nest they build and I haven't seen one of those yet. I hope to some day!

In the mean time I've got plenty of other interesting nests around here. The pictures are of titmouse on the left and bluebird on the right . We have lots of bluebirds as I've written about before. They make a good sturdy nest and line it with soft materials. On this example it has hairs and mossy material, perfect for tender, featherless baby birds! On the other extreme, you have the titmouse. Every year I say, while I'm cleaning out the birdhouses, "God, if I come back as a bird, please don't let it be as a titmouse. Why? Whatever birds think, I don't know, but for some reason the titmouse makes their nest out of sticks and twigs. That's it. Sticks and twigs. No soft lining, no fluff, just the nest. Here you go babies! They must be tough, or at least they are by the time they get out of that homesite!

Another interesting nest that I'd like to see some day is that of the Baltimore Oriole. From what I hear and read they actually weave a little bag from grasses and attach it to a branch from several spots around the opening of the bag. We had Orioles fly through one year and spend a few days and were they beautiful to see! But they did not come back and I think they nest farther south. That would probably be the place to find their unique nesting craftsmanship. Oh Dear Lord, how did you think of all these neat things! Thank you!