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Taking Stock of the Flock


We live on a wooded lot on a quiet street, making our backyard a great place to birdwatch. Each variety of bird has its own personality that teaches me important things about myself—and about friendship.

Although many of our birds migrate south before the snows fall, the hardy ones stay year round. They show up each morning and evening, relying on our feeders to supplement a scarce food supply. They model the importance of routine during hard times—and how smart it is to lean on friends.

The brightly colored cardinals are plentiful but innately shy. Introverts of the bird world. It doesn’t make them unfriendly or stuck up. It makes them special. When they do drop by, generally in pairs, we notice them. It’s nice to know they’ve checked us out and decided we’re trustworthy. Put an introspective bird in a safe environment, and he’s a loyal friend—in for the long haul.

I love our chickadees. They are sociable little birds that show up in energetic, friendly flocks. They never fail to cheer the day with their lively presence. Sometimes they stay for an hour, sometimes they are in and out in minutes, off to the next feeder. Chickadees are wonderful companions—as long as I can enjoy our time together without expecting them to love me more than they love the neighbors.

Finches are frequent guests—and total chameleons. Bright yellow and black in the green of summer, they add a dash of color to any gathering. In winter, they prefer to blend in, their drab gray feathers hold only a tinge of their former hues. Finches can be wonderful pals. Just don’t expect consistency.

Woodpeckers are less plentiful but they make their presence felt. From the smallest to the largest, these birds are welcome visitors until they start pounding holes in the side of our cedar house—or in the case of the gigantic pileated woodpeckers—huge hunks out of the trees like an old time lumberjack with an ax. Woodpeckers teach me the importance of setting boundaries, especially with those strong-willed friends who often don’t see the harmful ripples left in their wake.

The grosbeaks and robins both signal the arrival of spring but are, by nature, very different. A grosbeak will often hog center stage, camping on the feeder for long periods of time. Robins enjoy a vigorous splash in the bird bath, dig a worm or two, and off they go. Flashy, high maintenance friends have their charm, but it’s hard to beat those who ask little, offer much, and never complicate your life with drama.

Nuthatches are truly unique. These upside down visitors teach me that it’s good to have friends who view life from a different perspective.

Indigo buntings and scarlet tanagers are our most elusive visitors. Several times a summer, they grace our birdbath with their vivid presences. Their bright and beautiful colors make an undeniable impression—and are well worth the wait—and the diligence—that they require.

What kinds of birds populate your flock of friends? What kind are you?