ALWAYS IN SEASON: Close encounters of the bird kind
Last week brought several close encounters with birds. One was indoors, at the North Dakota Museum of Art. There's an exhibit there, "Winged Shadows: Life Among Birds." All my life, I've been interested in birds, watching them, buying books about...
Last week brought several close encounters with birds.
One was indoors, at the North Dakota Museum of Art.
There's an exhibit there, "Winged Shadows: Life Among Birds."
All my life, I've been interested in birds, watching them, buying books about them, reading and thinking and writing about them.
Nothing prepared me for this exhibit.
It presents not one but several ways of looking at birds, and several ways of thinking about them.
I was particularly struck by Rosalie Winard's work. Winard is a photographer. Her pictures are printed on fabric and displayed like banners in the lofty open space of the museum.
The result is a kind of airiness that conventional photographic prints just don't convey, and this gives the birds a kind of presence that is quite striking.
Of course I was predisposed to appreciate Winard's work. Many of her subjects are birds of wetlands, in general my favorite group of birds.
Several other artists are represented in the show, including Erika Lincoln, a Winnipegger, who contributes an electronic installation of starlings, a much maligned species here, since its not a native species.
The museum is on the UND campus, between the administration building and the railroad tracks. It's open every day including afternoons during the weekend, except Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
The exhibit runs through Jan. 15.
Go see it. It's a great way to connect with birds without having to go outside to see them.
Other avian encounters this week were outdoor experiences. One involved crows. Another involved redpolls. Like the art exhibit, these encounters kindled the sense of mystery I find among the birds.
The crows were standing on the Red River on Friday afternoon. Although crows are fairly large birds, they really don't weigh very much. The average is barely more than a pound.
So, even the thin ice on the Red River was substantial enough to support not just a single crow but at least 50 spread over an area about the size of an average residential lot.
What were the crows doing?
The ice was far too thin to support this human, whose weight is a couple of hundred times the weight of the average crow. So, I couldn't examine the ice to see what attracted the crows. One possibility is that something edible was trapped in the ice. The crows didn't appear to be feeding, however.
For a minute, I imagined the crows were looking at their reflections in the ice, and I haven't ruled that out.
The greater likelihood, I think, is that the crows were socializing.
Early winter is a great time for crow confabs. Crows spend most of the year in family groups, but in late fall and early winter, crows gather in large flocks. Probably flocking is a survival strategy. A group of crows could share information about food sources, for example, or roosting sites.
These crows weren't feeding, however.
They just seemed to be enjoying each other's company.
The situation was a little different with a flock of common redpolls, one of the smallest birds in North America.
Redpolls showed up suddenly when I went to fill the feeders in my backyard one afternoon last week. The backyard was completely silent -- no bird sounds of any kind and no birds in sight. When I finished the task and turned away, however, the air was suddenly filled with redpolls, the first substantial flock of them at my feeders this year.
Where did they come from?
Perhaps they were passing by. Perhaps they were resting in the tall grass at the back of the yard. Perhaps a single bird, or a small group of birds, advertised the offering, and other birds responded. I don't even rule out the possibility that some members of the flock knew there would be food in my backyard.
Redpolls are not long-lived, but some birds do survive from one season to the next, and perhaps they have knowledge that aids the survival of the species.
Redpolls are going to need human help this year. The long, late fall means there's little, if any, sunflower fields left, so redpolls will seek food where they find it. This means patches of weeds, roadside seed spills and, especially, backyard bird feeders.
So, keep the feeders filled. And enjoy the birds.