Saturday, April 4, 2009
When I am completely overwhelmed with work and have too many deadlines, tasks, jobs, commitments, errands, chores, emails, phonecalls, and engagements that must be attended to IMMEDIATELY, I write about birds. This beautiful mystery flew to the high bush cranberry in my yard the other day. Again, I was having lunch, gazing out my dining room window, when I saw this new stranger, oblivious to the snowstorm, sitting still as a zen master in the high bush cranberry. Although you can't see it, with my binoculars I saw that on the center of its back, by its shoulders, there were two beautiful caramel coloured swatches edged in black. The rest of the bird was light blue gray. My bird expert suggests that perhaps it was a fox sparrow, which is one of the largest sparrows. It returned yesterday with 2 of its own kind, to the same bush, but this time left in a hurry.
Earlier this winter, another mystery visitor flew to my yard. It flew to the Manitoba maple outside my 2nd floor office window. It too was a soft blue gray. It was a large bird, and it too sat still as a sentinel, surveying from up high. This bird, however, had a dark black mask across its eyes and a strong beak, hooked. This was the first time I have seen a Northern Shrike, or Lanius excubitor, which means, "Butcher watchman."
"Like all shrikes, the Northern Shrike is also known as the 'butcher bird' because of its unusual practice of impaling prey on thorns or barbed wire, much in the way butchers hang meat in their shops. Mice, small birds, and large insects form the bulk of the shrike's diet.
As is typical of birds that hunt animals for food, it has a strongly notched bill that is capable of tearing flesh."
No wonder my yard, so often full of bird song, was silent as a tomb as the watchman watched. Perhaps I may find tiny bird carcasses hanging from the raspberry thorns this spring.
This red bird greets all visitors to our house. It hangs in the porch window, by the front door. It is a Finnish punatulkku. About pyrrhula pyrrhula I don't know much, except that in elderly Finnish Canadian peoples' homes, somewhere, on a wall hanging or a plate or liina [linen], you will be sure to find a punatulkku.