[Article by Melissa Grant, North Bend resident, nature-lover and professional pet trainer at Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs.]
When I was a young teen I loved John Hughes movies. He seemed to look directly into the soul of my suburban teen confusion. His high school archetypes perfectly reflected all the turmoil of growing up in the 80’s. We watched Ferris Bueller skip school, Samantha Baker went through torturous embarrassment before blowing out her Sixteen Candles and most importantly, we learned the truth behind the judgmental labels of high school in The Breakfast Club.
This is the first year I’ve spent time watching my backyard birds navigate the social order of seed and I realized they have personalities just like the characters in the John Hughes movies of 30 years ago.
Yes, I just said that – and no I’m not crazy. Ok, maybe a little. But bear with me and see if you agree that the birds we see every day at our backyard feeder fit the human interactions we saw play out in high school.
[All photos taken by Melissa (except crow photo) from her living room window in North Bend, WA. Identifying photo of bird species listed below each description.]
Dark eyed Junco – The Popular Girl
Do you remember the cheerleaders and prom queens? The seemed to move in packs and always seemed happy and sparkly. The Juncos were the first bird I noticed this early spring. They are neat, even flashy little sparrows that flit about in little chirpy flocks. They seem almost absent-minded and carefree while foraging around on the ground. I often hear little high chirps before they take short little hopping flights to the next branch or shrub.
Crow – The Brain
Their quest for knowledge sometimes got them called names, but the brains always got the last laugh by being at the head of the class. The familiar crow is a large, intelligent, bird with hoarse, cawing voice. Crows are very social, sometimes forming flocks in the thousands. Inquisitive and sometimes mischievous, crows are good learners and problem-solvers. We have to make sure the lids are on our garbage cans and the suet block cages are securely fastened, lest a crow fly off with an unexpected treat.
Fox Sparrow – The Weirdo
There was always the weird kid standing alone in their uniqueness. They ate their own boogers in grade school and didn’t care if they took the uncool classes in high school. We all thought they were strange but they’re probably running Fortune 500 businesses now. Sorry if you’re a Fox Sparrow fan, but they seem a little weird to me. They spend a lot of time on the ground, using their legs to kick away leaves in search of insects and seeds. They rarely venture far from cover, and scurry away almost chicken-like when startled. In spring and summer, their sweet whistling call rings out as they kick around under my feeders.
Flicker – The Fashion plate
You remember the school tastemakers. Always on the cusp of what was hip. They were the best-dressed, coolest kid in school. Northern Flickers are large, brownish woodpeckers with a gentle expression and handsome black-scalloped plumage. I frequently scare them off the ground when I go out to replenish the seed. As they fly I see a flash of red in their wings and a bright white flash on the rump.
Stellar Jay – The Criminal/Bully
I remember the bullies. They targeted weaker victims and tormented them psychologically and physically without provocation. The bright blue Steller’s Jays are common fixture in my backyard, where they are quick to spy replenished seed and swoop down to frighten the smaller birds. Usually in twos they patrol the woods, sticking to the high canopy. I can hear their harsh, scolding calls when they’re nearby. Bold intelligent and noisy, they can clear twenty birds with one decisive swoop.
Pileated Woodpecker – The Rebel
Remember those kids in school that didn’t fit into any of our preconceived boxes? They were pushing boundaries, smoking in the bathroom and working the system. The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the biggest, most striking birds in my backyard and a true rebel. It’s almost the size of a crow, black with bold white stripes down the neck and a red punk rock crest. They whack away at dead trees, leaving unique holes in the wood. The nest holes they make have sheltered many other birds over the years. Loud, they announce their arrival with an almost tropical bird call and drum the woods with a deep slow rolling sound. The woodpecker will not be ignored.
Towhee – The Athlete
Competitive and always striving for excellence, the athlete in school was never crossed and always won. The gleaming black and red Spotted Towhee can clear the bird feeder with one slow swoop. It is a large, striking bird I can spot buzzing away in the treetops. They scratch and hop away in the leaf litter but then climb on to low branch to fly slowly between patches of cover. In early spring they spend 70 to 90% of their time singing and flying around looking for a mate.
Robin – The Snob
When obsession with material things went too far, the snob emerged in high school. Robins are a common early morning sight, tugging earthworms out of the ground. I frequently see them alone, bounding across lawn or standing erect alone surveying the area. Despite their aloofness, they are my favorite bird because they signal the beginning of spring with their bright red breasts and cheerful songs.
Varied Thrush – The Loner
The loner in school was a party-of-one and they liked it that way. It took me awhile to get a shot of the Varied Thrush because they seem to avoid the other birds. I kept catching a glimpse of an orangey shy bird, until one day I was still enough to see a handsome bird with a gray back set against burnt-orange breast and belly. I’ve had a couple more glimpses, but only for a moment as the pretty thrush hopped away to sing its haunting trilling song.
Chickadee- Black capped and Chestnut backed – The Class Clown
The class clown loved the spotlight. Distracting us with their antics in school made even failing a quiz bearable. The cute clownish bird seems to be curious about everything, including me. They have a habit of investigating me when I go out to refill the suet, and are quick to discover the new food, swooping back in before I even walk away. Acrobatic birds I rarely see them on the ground as they grab their food and eat somewhere else. They seem to associate in little bouncy flocks that cause a commotion when they arrive.
If you are interested in the breakfast club birds in your backyard, a good place to identify them is the National Geographic backyard bird identifier found HERE. Have fun birding this spring and summer!