A Bird’s Tale

Bird-Dogging the Neighborhood

Wed, 06/16/2021 - 7:45am

A cute little black dog joined our family about a month ago. He came from a shelter a few hours away who had described him as a three-year old chug (pug-chihuahua cross) named Loki. Loki has been an easy and joyful addition to our clan, despite the fact that we had never had a dog in our family before.

One of the things about dogs is that they need regular activity, and we are loving our many daily walks around the neighborhood with Loki. It is amazing how much you see and hear and learn about your neighborhood when you stroll around it daily, stopping regularly whenever your happy doggy wants to sniff around in the grass or stare down a squirrel.

From these neighborhood walks we can say with some certainty that we have two families of house wrens within two blocks of our house, more than half a dozen robins, and a single Carolina wren that seems to roam around daily from one backyard to another, belting out his rollicking “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle” song or some variation of it. There is a small flock of pigeons always on the white house three blocks down. One uniquely patterned pigeon in particular is almost always on the wire there when we go by. Two houses appear to be hosting house sparrows—we often see them going into holes in the siding where they must be feeding young.

In the past week, we have noticed at least three families of recently out-of-the-nest black-capped chickadees, the young birds giving their wheezy begging calls while the adults search for insects to feed them. There have been young robins, too, their breasts spotted, loudly and hungrily following around their parents at several neighborhood spots.

This morning as we walked with Loki we heard the local starlings giving their alarm calls as they often do when they spot a bird-eating hawk in the area. We scanned the skies and sure enough a merlin, a small falcon that specializes on eating small songbirds, came zipping by and perched in the top of a tree over the neighbor’s house. It was likely looking for food for its young in a nest somewhere not too far away.

Loki’s regular stops to inspect the tall grass near the home that is being remodeled at the corner of one of our favorite intersections ensured that we heard the migrants in the patch of forest nearby a few weeks ago; these included a Canada warbler, an American redstart, and a common yellowthroat. One day we heard a red crossbill calling as it flew over the neighborhood—a bird we likely would have missed had we not been walking Loki. A few streets up, we always see low-flying chimney swifts looking as they do like flying cigars with their rapidly beating wings, making their chittering calls. As Loki sniffs around the old tree stump there, we watch to see if we can spot them dropping down to their nest in one of the chimneys of one of the big, old houses nearby.

In the last few weeks, our heat-and-humidity-induced slow pace has allowed us to notice that whenever we see a crow appear, a blue jay pops up nearby and tries to chase it off. Must be that the jays have young in a nearby nest that they are worried might become dinner for the crows if they are not always on the alert.

Thank you, Loki, for getting us to slow down and see our neighborhood and its birds—and the routine of their daily lives that have become part of our own.

Jeffrey V. Wells, Ph.D., is a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Vice President of Boreal Conservation for National Audubon. Dr. Wells is one of the nation's leading bird experts and conservation biologists and author of the “Birder’s Conservation Handbook.” His grandfather, the late John Chase, was a columnist for the Boothbay Register for many years. Allison Childs Wells, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a senior director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization working statewide to protect the nature of Maine. Both are widely published natural history writers and are the authors of the popular books, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” (Tilbury House) and “Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao: A Site and Field Guide,” (Cornell University Press).