While many birders profess to adore avians more or less equally, Valentine’s Day is a good day to acknowledge that some birds are more equal than other. We all have our favorites, certain species that for which we’ll look a little longer, travel a little farther, or treat a little better with blandishments of seed and suet. Since today is also the eve of the Great Backyard Bird Count, let’s pay homage to those North American birds that winter with us, the ones that stick around when our fair weather friends are preening under the Caribbean sun. A respectable number of you were willing to identify your favorite backyard birds and while many were undoubtedly encouraged by the possibility of winning a free copy of Audubon Backyard Birdwatch, I’m sure most of you were motivated by pure, unadulterated love!
So what bird has been elected the Most Beloved Backyard Bird of 2008? Is it any surprise that the winner is the cheeky chickadee? The myriad flavors of Poecile are prized from coast to coast. Liza Lee Miller nominated the Chick-chick-chick-a-dee in all its varieties, in part because, unlike Clare, she doesn’t actually get Ravens in her backyard. She also thinks that we at 10,000 Birds rock, so you know she has impeccable taste! Nina and Cathy K. both favor the Carolina Chickadee; Cathy still remembers when she spotted “that first bird that sparked my lifelong interest in birding” and always looks up with anticipation at the sound of Chicka-dee-dee-dee! Not only does Mike Powers favor Black-capped Chickadee, but he even has a favorite individual, a banded bird known to his family as Pink-Blue-Red-Silver. These characterful critters got my vote too. Often, I’ve had the thought that this is a chickadee’s world and we just live in it. And although we didn’t get any votes from overseas, I suspect that as crazy as we are in North America for our chickadees, the folks in Europe are equally passionate about their… you know, maybe I shouldn’t finish that sentence.
Stephanie also loves the adorable Black-capped Chickadee but selected Pileated Woodpecker as her favorite for good reason: “They are so dramatic, majestic and strong with their swift movements! I’ve even been dreaming about them! Although in my dreams they are unrealistically large!” Greg is very fond of all woodpeckers, but also considers the magnificent Pileated to be his favorite. Polly shared that her kids (ages 5 & 3) are very excited about the GBBC. While their 3 feeders have many visitors, their favorite backyard bird is a Downy Woodpecker affectionately named Woody! Patricia’s favorite back yard bird is the Red-Bellied Woodpecker: “I love their colors- their Zebra-backed bars, bright red head, their loud Chiff, Chiff call and their determinedness in getting the seed from the feeders.”
Nuthatches give chickadees a run for their money in the popularity department. Bosque Bill went with White-breasted Nuthatch since “they are such clowns and they hang around (upside-down) all year long for my pleasure” but the predominant preference was red. Carrie considers the Red-breasted Nuthatch rare enough to be a treat, common enough to be a treat you actually get. And she’s a sucker for the little black mask. mariane agrees with Carrie, describing the nuthatch a “clown, acrobat, and brave enough to come within inches of me and chip like mad if I’m to slow filling the feeder.” A final vote for tiny and cute comes from Kim.
The wren could have been a contender. Rob Fergus, one of the grand marshals of this year’s GBBC, considers the Carolina Wren his favorite backyard bird, at least from where he’s living now: “I’m in a rowhouse with a tiny backyard, and good wren habitat is a couple hundred yards away, so I know whenever I see a Carolina Wren that its had to make an effort to visit my yard.” Michele K.’s favourite (she’s from Canada) has to be the little House Wren “always making its presence known whenever you step outside.” If only wren hadn’t thrown over her totem Carolina Wren for the Sandhill Cranes that visit her yard regularly in the spring and summer, we might have had a contest!
Multiple mimids made the most beloved list, with Gray Catbird ascendant. Traci revealed that she can’t resist that dapper black cap and raucous, mysterious singing from inside the shrubs. Lynne thinks the Catbird is often overlooked because of it’s seemingly drab gray coloring but when you look closer, it has a jaunty black cap and saucy rusty undertail coverts. She also finds their song range delightful and especially nice to hear late into the evening. Speaking of songs,
The Ridger voted for Northern Mockingbirds: “With a real virtuoso around, it can sound like your yard is full of many birds. And I love the way they leap into the air, flashing their white-barred wings, never missing a note.” Another magnificent mimid is, according to Nathan, the Brown Thrasher: “such a cool bird close up with great song that reminds me of summer evenings on the back porch.”
Catbirds almost got a vote from arcolaura but she instead cast her ballot for the bird that always takes her breath away, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Frankly, I’m surprised hummingbirds didn’t get more votes. So was Mary Carlson who revealed her favorite to be Anna’s Hummingbird: “It’s such a delight to see these little flying jewels in their beautiful colors. And, oh, they can be feisty at the feeders, too. I love to see such aggression, or is it assertiveness in these small avians. Little but mighty!”
The last backyard bird to garner multiple votes was the sleek, chic Cedar Waxwing. Katie Dennis, a first-time GBBC ambassador hosting a birding weekend at The Oregon Garden, loves her waxwings. So does Jan Baudin, who attributes Cajun characteristics to Bombycilla cedrorum: “these colorful characters aren’t afraid of strangers, really enjoy a good meal with plenty of friends, and can sing pretty good without being drunk.” I don’t know about that last bit, as these frugivores have been known to hit the fermented berries pretty hard. But Jan’s infatuation also included a Valentine song of tribute: Winter comes, and winter goes, and with it goes the waxwing. Hurry back to me, my jolie, in la louisiane…(tapping foot, scratching frattior).
Other avians to make the list included Jayne‘s Eastern Bluebirds (naturally), Drew‘s White-crowned Sparrow, James‘ Black-crested Titmouse, and Jason Pietrzak’s Dark-eyed Junco, Moe, in true “backyard” style, chose the American Robin: “They just hop around the yard, pause, turn their head back and forth (listening for worms), hop some more, then suddenly snag a juicy nightcrawler out of our beautifully dark and rich Iowa soil.”
Eva was the only person to choose a wood warbler, in her case the tail-pumping Palm Warbler. The birding gods must have looked kindly on her decision, because Eva was the lucky winner of one of the free copies of Audubon Backyard Birdwatch provided by our friends at DK Publishing. The two winners were chosen entirely at random, a fact most evident when you learn that the second recipient is none other than Rob Fergus. As a Senior Scientist at Audubon, I’m sure he has a bathtub filled with these brilliant little backyard guides. Nonetheless, my wife enforces these giveaways with ironclad integrity (somebody has to!) so Rob will have another copy to add to his collection. He certainly deserves it, and not just because he’s about to hit by a tidal wave of GBBC data. Besides mentioning the Carolina Wren as the most beloved of his current backyard brigade, he described the most enticing of his old estate: “When I lived in Austin, my backyard was along the Colorado River, so my favorite backyard bird there was the Ringed Kingfishers that would occasionally swing by. Nothing like a heron-sized (well, almost!) kingfisher rattling up the river to get the blood flowing!” For those of us grappling with end-of-winter blues, that description alone is a thrill!
Many thanks to all the participants and promoters of this entertaining contest and hearty congrats to the winners. Good luck with your Great Backyard Bird Counting and be sure to come back next year for the coronation of the Most Beloved Backyard Bird 2009. Actually, you shouldn’t wait that long to come back…