Speaking of Nature

Kids & Critters: The rose-breasted grosbeak

Different sorts of birds have different personalities. Some birds are loud, while others are quiet. Some birds are bold, while others are shy. But from my point of view, I would have to say that all birds are friendly. The only reason they fly away from people is because they are afraid.

Many years ago, I used to work as a wildlife rehabilitator and I raised many birds. I can’t think of a single one that was mean, but that’s probably because all of those baby birds thought I was “mommy.” They would jump on me when they were hungry and land on my head when they were learning to fly, but almost every one of them eventually grew up and decided to fly off on their own and try to make their way in the world.

These days, I don’t get that close to baby birds, but I do sometimes get close to adult birds that come to my feeders. I don’t have any dogs or cats in my yard and if I make a habit of quietly sitting in the same spot day after day, the birds will get used to me. They’ll be a little shy at first, but eventually they seem to understand that I’m not an immediate threat.

Still, there are definitely some birds that are more comfortable in my presence than others. Chickadees probably show the most bravery, but there is a downy woodpecker that will come quite close, too. Hummingbirds are very confident in themselves, but birds like grackles, blue jays and doves tend to be a bit more skittish. Each type of bird seems to have its own comfort zone.

The thing that is really interesting to me is the fact that there are some birds that don’t really seem to see people all that often. Birds of the far north, like siskins and redpolls will show up at birdfeeders in the winter and they will barely seem to notice me if I walk out onto the porch. Sometimes I can get within a few feet of them before they fly off, not in fear so much as in apparent exasperation.

Then, in the summer, there is a big change in the bird community at my porch. The woodpeckers and chickadees that knew me in the winter still know me in the summer, but most of the other birds arrive from places unknown and I have to give them a chance to get to know me. This can take a while, but there has been one bird that seems especially friendly this year.

A male rose-breasted grosbeak has been hanging around my feeders and he seems to be shy and bold at the same time. The strange thing is that he seems to be shy around the other birds, but bold around me. He is clearly interested in the seeds in the feeder, but there are times when even a little chickadee can chase him away. However, if I am sitting out by the feeder, he is more than happy to come sit near me while the other birds are too chicken to come close. Even the bold and brassy blue jays won’t come that close.

So here’s a joke: When is a blue jay not a blue jay? When he’s a chicken! Hah!

Now I’m not sure if you have a bird feeder at your house, but if you do, I would suggest that you set up a chair about 40 feet away and sit very quietly. See which birds will come by and which won’t. Sometimes it’s easy to sit quietly when you have something to do. I usually write in my journal, but you could always draw a picture. Why not draw a rose-breasted grosbeak? All you need is black, red and maybe some brown and green for a tree. And if you think of it, take a photo of your picture and e-mail it to me so I can post it on my website.

Bill Danielson has worked as a naturalist for 16 years. In that time, he has been a national park ranger, a wildlife biologist and a field researcher. He currently works as a high school chemistry and biology teacher. His Speaking of Nature column runs weekly in The Recorder, except for the first Thursday of each month, which is when his Kids and Critters column for young readers appears. To contact Bill, or to learn more about his writing, visit www.speakingofnature.com

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