Wednesday, April 22, 2009

For about ten days now we’ve had an Eastern Towhee in our yard. At first I only heard it. The song was not familiar to me, and I kept trying to get a view of what I was hearing.

Saturday morning dawned beautifully clear and bright, and my kids went out to play as soon as they had gulped down breakfast. My son found me a short time later. Mom, he said. There’s this weird bird. Its not a robin. Maybe it’s a juvenile robin. Or something. Come look.

Well, there it was, as lovely as could be hopping all around the yard looking for insects. We got out the bird book to make sure we were ID-ing it correctly. Yep. Like a robin, but dressed in a fancy tuxedo. Why, I wondered as I watched it, do robins always look like farmers ready to work in the field, whereas this lovely thing looks like its going out for a night on the town? I decided it was the triangle shape across its chest, which looks strangely like the vest of a tux.

At first we whispered around it. Then, we got over it and decided to go about our business as usual, playing catch, screaming, running, and digging in the garden. Once, late in the afternoon, my daughter watched it and whispered, It is something special, isn’t it?

The great thing was, we were becoming more and more used to it as the time wore on, and I thought about how little was here when we started the garden. We live in an incredibly urban area. But now, after all our work, our yard is host to so many birds, so many butterflies. We’ve overhauled, dug out, planted natives… And my kids have learned the animals of our yard well enough to know what is “weird” or “special” versus what is not. More and more “weird and special” things are moving in. Seven years of hard work have paid off -- big time -- for us and for the animals.

It was the weekend of the birds, actually, because after the Towhee’s grand arrival we saw that the Brown Thrashers had returned. I hope that they’ll build a nest again in the huge overgrown shrub out there. Robins had started their nest out front for the four year in a row, leading to a lively dinnertime discussion about whether it was the same robins building the nest in the same spot or new ones. (My son was shocked to learn that some birds can live 11 years or more, and will return to the same spot to nest.) The Carolina chickadees began a nest in our bird box again, and the Carolina wrens were seen flying around.

And still I wonder, is that Towhee here to stay, or just visiting? Will he build a nest? Or just eat a while before moving on? If the Towhee stays, will it survive and thrive? Or is this just too much of an urban area?

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