Unusual Incident at the Bird Feeder: A Short Mystery
As a courting tool, my last partner, Dick, brought over his second best binoculars and a bird book for me.  This did not have the hoped for effect of increasing my interest either in him or in birds. 

True, I had a hummingbird feeder (a really beautiful thing called “A Victorian”) which I bought at Walmart—no kidding—for $9.99.  But I consider hummingbirds in a class by themselves:  their dew drop size, their whirring wings, their helicopter hovering, have always entranced me.  The females are a lackluster dun or grey/green but some of the males have a ruby neck capped with an emerald head and back.  (And isn’t it interesting that in nature, the male needs to be stunningly attractive to procure a mate, while the female just has to be.  The human race has turned this concept on its head.)

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 Undeterred by my tepid response to binoculars, Dick bought me a regular bird feeder and stocked it with black oil sunflower seeds.  Both of the feeders hang just inches outside my dining room windows and if birds were into night life, these feeders would be classed as the most popular bars in town.

  In spring, when I first filled the feeder, I came down to breakfast one morning to confront the Zsa Zsa Gabor of the bird world—a gorgeous voluptuous creature with such stunning coloration that I gasped.  The bird had a red breast, an indigo/ebony cloak on its head and shoulders, and white stripes on its wings and tail.  I think it knew it was beautiful and it comported itself with grace as it daintily picked at bird seed.  I lurched for my bird book and I found it:  a rose breasted grosbeak.  It stayed for a while and then left; but I remained enchanted for the rest of the day.

The humming birds came and went at their feeder, the males like flying flowers, the females more sedate.  And there was actually a couple which sipped from the feeder side by side!

Raucous blue jays, the males with their high flowing coxcombs, proclaiming themselves in Trump(et)-like pronouncements, visited.

And then one day I looked through the dining room window and saw the most astonishing bird I had ever seen in my life:  it had a royal blue head and neck, chartreuse shoulders, and a crimson breast.  It was utterly lovely.  I desperately wanted to know what this beautiful creature was.  I thumbed through the bird book dozens of times; I described the bird to anyone who would listen.  No one could tell me, not even those people who (unlike me) were really interested in birds.  And then one day, in the way these things go, I flipped the pages of the bird book again and there it was.

A Painted Bunting.

This bir hangs in the mid-south—Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma.  But it is also a “casual” or “accidental” to the Great Lakes and New England.  The Peterson Field Guide of Eastern Birds defines an “accidental” as “a vagrant, reported fewer than a dozen times east of the Mississippi River”.

I had had an experience a regular bird watcher would kill for:  a very rare sighting, inches from my dining room table, of a Painted Bunting in Vermont.

Well, I was hooked. 

Did you know that a red-winged blackbird (a bird I admired even when I didn’t like birds) has a chromatic opposite—the scarlet tanager, which has a red body and black wings?  And if you pay attention, you can see them both in your own back yard.

Did you know that the bird with a wonderful saffron orange breast is called a Baltimore oriole?  Or that the beautiful creature, dressed entirely in splendid cerulean blue is an Indigo Bunting.  (Oh, those Buntings!)   And did you know that even slightly dull birds, like starlings, sparrows and wrens, all somber greys, browns and tans, have darling little faces when viewed up close?

This morning, after the gold finches with their wonderful dandelion jackets left, a new bird came to the feeder.  It was black and white, a little like a very small border collie in flight.  I’m still trying to figure this one out.  You couldn’t help me out on this, could you?


Joan Jaffe

 If you liked this, please read "Encounters of the Third Kind--Air" 


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