We’ve been looking out our windows for months watching the same species of birds. Those of us who really love bird watching are like people in the desert searching for water, only we are desperate for variety.

In the last couple of weeks we have had American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackle and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker arrive.  Of the larger birds we have seen Trumpeter Swans flying overhead, along with Canada Geese. In the stubble corn fields Sandhill Cranes have been stalking about.  And the Dark-eyed Juncos!  Hundreds of

Dark-eyed Juncos are seed eaters that forage on the ground for food.

Dark-eyed Juncos are seed eaters that forage on the ground for food.

these little gray birds with the white outer tail feathers have been swarming the yard in the search of bird seed of all kinds.  We are not sure what they were eating out on the field where our new septic system was put in last year, but it kept them busy for hours.

Then as I looked out the window one morning at the scattering of Juncos, I noticed one bird doing a familiar little hop,/skip ‘dance’ below the feeders.  I immediately thought ”Fox Sparrow”. I grabbed the binoculars and sure

fox sparrow

The Fox Sparrow with its pretty pattern of gray and rust feathers

enough, that’s what it was.  I called my husband to come and look and we counted at least seven of them in the front and on the side of the house.  These birds look for seeds by hopping forward and using the claws on their feet to pull the vegetation (in this case leaves) back, exposing seeds that would otherwise be missed.

The Fox Sparrow is an inch bigger than a House Sparrow, but so much prettier. They have rusty colored wings and tail feathers and a soft gray covering the rest of their back. Their sides are streaked with more of those rust colored feathers.  These sparrows spend their winters in the southern United States, but their summer breeding ground is at the furthest reaches of Canada and across to Alaska.   They have a long way to go yet, so building up fat layers while in migration is very important.  Even as they searched our yard for food, snow fell, covering the ground, but that didn’t deter them. We could tell where they had been by the darker exposed circles in the snow.

While we try to adhere to the request to stay home, once a week we make a trip to a  Wildlife Refuge.  This is for our mental health as much as our desire to see new birds.  At this time of year what we see are waterfowl.  They stop in the Refuge, which is a series of dammed pools and rest and feed before continuing their journey to more northern nesting territories..

Trumpeter swans are among the migrants seen at Refuges now

Trumpeter swans are among the migrants seen at Refuges now

We saw large numbers of Trumpeter Swans, as well as numerous duck species.  State or National Wildlife Refuges are critical during both spring and fall migration.   Later in the spring , when the trees have leaves, the show changes as the songbirds arrive.  This Refuge has wooded sections as well as prairie plantings so there is lots of good habitat for many species.  Most people think about state or national parks to see wildlife, but refuges are some of the best places and you will find very few people exploring them.  No worries about social distancing here..

Now more than ever we need to have something positive to look forward to. The birds will not let us down and in fact may lift us up as we continue to face this health crisis.  For a time, these feathered creatures can take our minds off of the unseen enemy that has invaded our lives.  They are truly a reason to give us hope and joy at a time when we really need it.

By the way, if  you haven’t yet checked out the bird cams I wrote about earlier this month, do so  now. I am watching an Eagle nest and a Barred Owl nest. Both have three babies in each nest and it is fascinating to see how the parents care for them.  This is another good way to give your mind a break from the uncertain world we are facing.

By  Kate Crowley