Wednesday, May 4, 2022

For the Birds

Because spring was late, a rose breasted grosbeak was late coming to our feeder this year. We've seen four of them. They usually hang around for 4 to 7 days before moving on north.

On the other hand… an oriole actually nests, bringing up young, and staying around until late June (this photo was taken a couple of years ago, when we had late spring precipitation)


          Years ago I spoke to the Audubon Society Chapter at Pittsburg Kansas, and enjoyed getting to spend some time with folks who truly love all aspects of nature, especially birds.  I think my talk went over really well except for my woodpecker recipes.  On a more serious side, I myself have had a great fascination with birds since I was very small.  I wanted to grow up and be a waterfowl biologist when I was only eleven years old, and floated the Big Piney River in the fall, sneaking up on wood ducks and hooded mergansers and mallards and teal and other birds. 

When I was a kid it was birds that drew me to the woods and the river in the winter. There were so many birds to be seen, some year-round residents and some just passing through ahead of the first cold winds.


It was always that way with each new bird.  A kingfisher lit on the blind one day as we floated the river hunting ducks.  He was perched there only for a couple of seconds, a couple of feet from my face. 

The little green herons that were so numerous along the river in the fall always fascinated me, they didn’t appear to have any green on them whatsoever, but rather a purple, rusty color, a mean look in their eye and more patience than I could imagine.  As we would float along, you’d see one of those ‘shikepokes’, as Grandpa called them, at a shallow spot, intensely staring into the water, as still as a statue.  They might not move a feather for 5 minutes or more, and then when the time was right they would strike with lightning quickness, and come up with a beak full of small fish or minnow.


I am no less fascinated by birds now, and have developed quite a bird sanctuary here where I live over the last thirty years, on Lightnin’ Ridge, in the heart of the Ozarks.  It is a ridge-top of big timber, old growth oak-hickory woodlands, and there are a tremendous variety of birds here. I am expecting Baltimore orioles soon. They are large, beautifully colored birds, black and orange and white, and they love nectar.  It is strange to see a bird that large clinging to a hummingbird feeder trying to drink that sweet nectar.  I go to town each spring and buy some orange-colored oriole nectar and try to get them to stay longer. Some years, a pair will nest here… laying eggs inside a sock-like nest. Behind them comes the secretive rain-crows, or yellow billed cuckoos, which are heard a great deal, but seldom seen in those high white oak branches where they nest. 

 The illusive rain crow. They are normally heard but very rarely seen.
                                              I was lucky to get this camera shot.

Bluebirds nest in the boxes I put out for them, and a pair of mockingbirds nest each year in a cedar and redbud thicket behind the garden. 

The Blue grosbeak has a rusty wing patch

Each spring we see the blue grosbeak, similar in color to indigo buntings, which we also have a lot of, but larger, with rusty wings. The rose-breasted grosbeaks come for awhile too and there are brown thrashers and fly-catchers, and kingbirds and summer tanagers and butcher birds and in a little wet opening in the back end of the woods, I saw a wood-cock mother with tiny chicks a couple of years ago.  One covey of quail survives each winter in our thicket around the pond. There are so many kinds of woodpeckers in these woods you’d be amazed. Two big pileated woodpeckers can often be seen right out of my office window.

In those 30 years, I have not seen any birds that are completely new, except one road-runner 15 years back that I never saw again.  Now there is a brand new species!  Two individuals nesting close by, the pair feeding beneath the feeder with all the mourning doves, larger with lighter color and a collar.  They are beautiful ‘collared doves’, fairly rare in the wild Ozarks, but growing in number, around homesteads and dairy farms.  No photos yet but I will get some.  They are welcome here, seen feeding amongst larger groups of mourning doves to keep the grain the other birds scatter on the ground, cleaned up.

It might be noted, and often is remarked about by visitors, that Lightnin' Ridge is sort of an unkempt place at times, with unmowed grass a little too high and raspberry thickets allowed to grow fairly close to the house. Right now in the high grass there are baby rabbits and small flowers scattered everywhere.  I may not mow until July! But then again, no one ever complains about all the music amongst the branches, the songs of so many different kinds of birds you can’t help but notice that the trees just seem to be alive.  I don’t know how anyone lives without birds, certainly I never have, and will not.  I have been told there’s lots of money in clearing your land, selling the logs and putting in acres of grass to feed herds of cattle.  And I have been told the craziest thing in the world is someone who thinks he is rich because he has a forest full of wild birds all around his house.   But in the spring, how can anyone live without them? Money cannot make you as rich as me.


The new Outdoor Journal magazine will be out this week, full color, 70 pages.  And the Ozark Journal magazine has been out since two weeks ago. If you want a copy of either, email me at or just call Ms. Wiggins, my executive secretary at 417 777 5227 to have her send you one.  See them on my website,


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