Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This is for the Birds!

Have you ever wondered how this expression came about? I know I have used this comment frequently to express frustration and disgust, particularly in my teaching days. "This is for the birds!" was usually in reference to some state mandate or a project by an inept administrator requiring a mound of useless paperwork that somehow was supposed to improve student learning. But why would we compare something distasteful to birds? What have our feathered friends ever done to deserve such derogatory comments?

I know that you, my fellow bloggers, are all bird lovers, some to the point that you can identify the long-tailed whippersnapper or the orange-breasted grosamacallit, and some of you are photographers extraordinaire, posting amazing close-ups of a variety of birds in your posts. I am neither--I can't identify anything other than the most common species, and my camera doesn't have much zoom capability to capture them at close range--but I do enjoy watching the birds that flock to my yard and garden. And so, I ask you, in the true spirit of political correctness, to join with me in abolishing all negative epithets regarding birds, including "for the birds" or "birdbrain." I plan to eliminate all such expressions from my vocabulary, and I hope you will urge others to do the same. It's time we accord our avian friends the same respect and basic rights that we give to all other species, regardless of race, color, creed, or sexual preference.

In all seriousness, now that my garden is no longer blooming, the birds are providing me with much enjoyment. I wish I could identify the different species that have been visiting lately, but I do recognize the robins, sparrows, finches, cardinals, crows, starlings, and bluejays. There won't be any wonderful photos of them here, because of the aforementioned camera inadequacies, so unfortunately I can't ask for your help in identifying them either. And without photos you'll just have to trust me when I say I also saw a red-headed woodpecker the other day. (No, his name wasn't Woody, for those of you old enough to recognize that reference.)

The goldfinches have been residents here all summer long, and recently returned after what must have been a short vacation. They entertained me the other morning as they jockeyed for position on the finch feeder. Two of them even engaged in feather to feather combat in midair--I would have given anything to have my camera with me then! I'm not sure what they were fighting over, but I suspect it had something to do with territorial rights.

Besides the thistle seed in the feeder itself, the finches also enjoy the seedheads of the coneflower. This year I have decided to leave the dried flowers as they are. I'm not going to worry what passersby think of my roadside garden; the birds are enjoying it, and that's all that matters.

The cardinals have also kept me entertained, which gives me an excuse to show off my burning bushes again. They reached their peak of color in late September and kept this blazing red color for a month.

In the spring and early summer I am pretty sure a pair of cardinals had a nest here, because every time I worked in this flowerbed, a male would fly about, constantly scolding me. I tried to reassure him that I would work quietly and not disturb his family, but he kept a wary eye on me the whole time I was there.

Now the young ones have grown and moved away. The bushes, no longer needed to hide a nest of fledglings, have shed their leaves, creating a gorgeous red carpet on the ground.

But they will continue their usefulness to the birds by providing hundreds of berries for the winter.
By far the favorite attraction for the birds this fall, though, has been this flowering crabapple tree. Now completely denuded of its leaves, you can see the wealth of berries it holds.
This tree is situated directly in front of the porch swing, so that I have the perfect vantage point for bird-watching. In the time it takes me to drink my morning coffee, I can see 30 or more birds of different species settle in for a quick early-morning treat.

Yesterday morning I spied a pair of these little birds in the tree. I have no idea what type of bird they are . . . let's try to move in a little closer to see if we can get a better view.

Sorry, this is as close as I could get. When I first saw the flash of orange at their throat, I thought they were robins, but a closer inspection reveals they're not. Can anyone identify these little birds for me?

Here are two I can identify, though. If you click to enlarge this and look very closely, you will see a robin on the right and a cardinal to the left. I took several shots of the cardinal, but this was the best I could get--he just blended into the red berries in all the other photos. I really wish I could take good close-ups of the birds, but that would involve buying a new camera, and I'm not ready to spend money on a new one when mine is less than a year old. I do try to get as close as I can to the birds, but no matter how stealthily I approach them, they seem to notice the woman in the bright red jacket, camera in hand. And it doesn't help that my constant canine companion, Coconut, likes to run ahead of me to get in on the action.

And so I settle for these far-away photos and try not to disturb the birds too much. By the way, I am not doing an ABC Wednesday post tomorrow. The letter this week is R, so perhaps I could have included this fat Robin enjoying the view.

In September and early October I spent a great deal of time picking apples and preserving them for the winter. Climbing up and down a ladder causes very painful knees, so I decided just to pick the apples from the lowest branches and wait for the others to fall to the ground. Each day I collected the fallen apples before they could spoil, but time and the weather kept me from finishing the job. I noticed the other day that someone appreciated my neglect.

I guess I've unknowingly provided another treat for the birds this fall. Now I don't feel so guilty about not using up all those apples.

I'm going to continue to look out for my feathered friends this winter. I've asked for a new bird feeder for Christmas, but I may not wait to see if Santa brings me one. The long winter seems like the perfect time to check out some birding books to begin to learn the names of some of my visitors. And there's even a website I found with bird calls to help in identifying them. From now on, when you hear me say, "This is for the birds," I will be referring to apples or sunflower seeds or other treats. After all, birds have rights, too.


  1. Rose ~ This is such a cute post. It definitely is nice to watch the birds from the inside of the house. We just rearranged the one room so a loveseat was under the window looking out to the feeders. This way Lillian can enjoy the birds as well.

  2. I love the birds too. Can't help with your little guy. A redpoll maybe? Not too good at it.

    Love that crabapple! What a great shape!

  3. Good morning~
    Loved the post Rose! The flowering cherry is beautiful and what a delight to have coffee and see them 'flock' to the tree...I suspect they will occupy more of our time this winter as the gardens recede just a bit under winter's hold or in some cases...winter's blanket of snow!

    I love the birds who visit my garden, they provide endless hours of entertainment and song. I love hearing them chirp/sing and the smaller ones are too comical at the feeders! Like you, my camera has a limited zoom so capturing them in a photo is rare! The gold finches have completely eluded me all fall! I can hear them, even see them but they are a blur of yellow and black on all photos!

    I will be minding my idioms!

    The word verification is fullwee isn't that a bird call!

  4. Rose I loved this post. Birds are one of those "freebies" in life that entertain us immeasurably. My hubbie and I can sit and watch them for what seems like forever.

    I don't know if I told you or not but I love that burning bush header. So pretty. That is one of my favorite shrubs. Thanks for posting your beautiful pics. Enjoyed them all!

  5. Your bird looks like a House Finch to me. We have them here throughout the colder months, too.

    Isn't it nice to have tall the fruit-laden trees and bushes to provide for them!

  6. Dear Rose,
    I am a bird lover too. No negative phrases at my house...such profanity is prohibited...."a bird brain" is a compliment, they are so intelligent.
    Your firebushes are gorgeous. WOW!
    Your red streaked little bird looks to be a male Purple Finch. You will enjoy a field guide. Knowing their names is very fun. Red Headed Woodepeckers are fantastic birds. I have never had one in my backyard. I do see them in the winter sometimes when I go hiking in the woods.
    I sit outside with my birds all year long. In the winter I bundle up. I love my bird time.
    Fun post.

  7. You have plenty of colour left in your garden. The pictures look good.
    I love to watch the birds. Its the least we can do to provide food for them when they give such all year round pleasure.

  8. What fun! I had never thought of those phrases as derogatory, but will certainly watch my language in the future. I can see where dealing with administrators or the state could cause one to use expletives of some sort.

    Rose, it still amazes me that you and I have grown in the same direction in the last few years. I am refering to gardens and birds. :) But it is wonderful to have these things in common too.

  9. I have so many things to say after reading this I probably should e mail rather than comment!! I do love your posts Rose.

    Firstly, I am very interested in how you preserve your apples. Do you stew and freeze them or do you have a secret reciipe?!

    What you call a 'burning bush' llooks very much like what we call a 'spindle berry'. Yours is so spectacular, and I love it when the leaves fall and paint the ground with their vibrant colour.

    I wish we had cardinals, they look very spectacular.

    And, one more thing (!), I am with you totally about the birds, and some species such as the crow/magpie family are very inteligent, not 'birdbrains' at all. I can'r solve your mystery bird problem but he is certainly cute :)

  10. What a feast your Crabapple has provided for the birds! My Crabapple has nowhere near as many fruits, which is just as well, as the birds never get a chance at them. The piggy squirrels devour them all, even clipping off branches to get at the fruits on the end.
    There's another good reason to leave those Coneflowers up all winter - they look great with snow on them.

  11. Hi Rose, I'm on board, no bird insults here, if I ever used them, not sure it was part of my vocabulary. I think your bird is a male house finch or male purple finch. They are so similar it is hard to tell the difference. A good book about bird ID in the Peterson Field Guides. I use one called Easter Birds, that might work for you too. You just look for the picture that closest matches your bird. It is a little paperback that can fit in your pocket, not expensive. Your crabapples are absolutely divine! What a wonderful thing to gaze upon while swinging and consuming caffeine. :-)

  12. A beautiful post for our feathered friends......I wish I could help you identify your mystery bird but I am only familiar with UK birds.....very pretty whatever it is.....would love to know....

    The berries are so autumnal......and a bird feast.....you are becoming my next wildlife gardener of the year 2009.......

    So pleased that you have left your seedheads on......who cares what the neighbours think.......it is sad they do not do the same......the birds will thank you Rose and eat all your nasty bugs next year.......

  13. Lovely post, Rose, and how right of you to defend the critters who can't speak for themselves! I did find an interesting idea about the origin of the expression here:


    I'm not so sure I like the association of birds with road apples in that explanation. Now I understand why the noun being modified by "this" is missing in the expression, though.

  14. Rose, I was just sitting here laughing at a bunch of fat little birds fussing with each other for perches on my bird feeder. They are very entertaining! We also have quite afew squirrels (who wish they could get that birdseed!) and they are like little comedians, too. Free entertainment! It's like watching a paralel universe out there with their own little families and disagreements, etc.

  15. Cindy, I bet Lillian enjoys watching the birds. We have a loveseat next to our picture window, too; only in our house it's the cat Toby who likes to sit there and watch the birds:)

    Tina, I think some others have provided clues to the bird. This crabapple has become my favorite this year--long-lasting white blossoms in the spring and now the berries. I need to find out what variety it is!

    Gail, All summer I tried to capture the elusive hummingbird with only a few pathetic photos and videos to show for it. In the meantime, though, I began noticing the other birds. The goldfinches are fun to watch.
    Those word verfications can be eerily on topic sometimes!

    Susie, I am enjoying more and more "free" entertainment lately--much better than most of the fare on TV:) Thanks for the compliment on the burning bush--it was actually redder than what the photo shows.

    Nina, Thanks for the i.d. I am going to check that out. I didn't plant any of the fruit or berry-laden bushes, but I'm so glad they're here.

    Sherry, I knew you would know this bird! I'm going to buy a small guide to the birds to identify them; I'm so impressed by your knowledge of them. The woodpecker has been seen here occasionally--I hope one day I can get a photo of him.

  16. Thanks, Maggie May. I find that sitting and watching the birds is a great way to relieve stress and relax--and it's free!

    Beckie, Yes we have both grown in many ways:) I'm glad we both share an interest in gardening and the birds and butterflies; my family is beginning to think I'm a little weird:) But I think we both come by it naturally--your mother was a bird-lover, wasn't she?

    Suburbia, I am behind in answering e-mails; so sorry! The cardinal is the state bird of Illinois and quite a beauty. The female is not as showy, of course, but I've had a couple pairs here this year. I wonder if they mate for life--the couples here seem very loving.

    MMD, I am lucky that for some reason the squirrels don't venture too near the house. Perhaps the two cats who spend most of the day outdoors scare them away. That crabapple is the white-blossomed one; I wish I knew what kind it was.

    Frances, Thanks for the i.d.! I checked out a website, and the house finch photo looks very much like it, though the purple finch is close, too. I listened to recordings of their songs, which are also very close. Thanks for the tip on the birding book. I've been looking for an easy-to-use small one, and the Field guide sounds like a good one.

  17. Cheryl, thank you; thanks to Nina, Sherry, and Frances I think it is a house finch. I've been wanting to buy a bird guide for some time, but I wanted to find an easy-to-use one. It will take me a long time to be able to identify them like you, though:) Thanks for the compliment on "Wildlife Gardener"; I'm a long way from that, but I find myself more and more in tune with nature. It's hard to explain the feeling, but I think you understand, Cheryl.

  18. W2W, Thanks for the link--I did check that out. Now I understand what you meant about the missing noun:) I think that explanation just strengthens my argument that those expressions are negative. It's interesting it's an American expression; what does that say about us?

    Joyce, Yes, I've had fun watching them this year. Earlier this summer I watched a pair of cardinals feeding under a tree. I swear they were kissing each other, but I think the male was finding food and giving it to the female.

  19. What a fun post Rose! Our whole family gets into the bird watching. The kids often come running when they see something interesting at the feeders while yelling "Quick! Get the camera!" The little one looks like it could be a house finch.

  20. I see you already got an ID on the bird, and that's what I was going to suggest - a house finch. We have them all year round.

    Your burning bushes are HOT! We have some too and I just love them. Yours are outstanding!d

  21. I loved your tree! The one you watch while drinking morning coffee. It's shape is truly magical!
    I'm with you on the expression "for the birds!" Never really paid much attention to it before. But you are right. We love birds here!

    I enjoyed all your pics. You truly have a brightly coloured garden - even at this time of year. And leaving seed heads for the birds is a good idea. They will thank you all winter long.

  22. A bird field guide would be another good christmas gift Rose. I enjoyed this post. Birds do get bad mouthed for no apparent reason. That crabapple is magnificent. So many apples. I bet you will have Cedar Waxwings in that tree before winter is over.

  23. I wouldn't be without my garden birds. The colurs are magnifecent on those trees.

  24. Amy, I don't have to go far to go bird-watching:) I've really come to enjoy it this year.

    Kylee, yes those burning bushes were ablaze with color this year. Thanks for the bird i.d. and also the link to your post on the oak. If my calculations are correct, my oak is over 300 years old!

    Wendy, Until I started blogging, I didn't know that the birds enjoyed the seedheads. All the wonderful things I've learned this year!

    Lisa, I think I'm going to buy the bird guide myself rather than entrust that choice to someone else. I checked out the cedar waxwing photos--ooh, I hope they come here!

    Babooshka, Thanks; I got carried away with the birds that I didn't take time to do an ABC post this week.

  25. Wonderful RED post, and all naturaltoo. Love the little house finch/Red Poll in your one photo that you were wondering about. They have the sweetest song.
    Happy Wednesday!

  26. What a great way to spend the winter months Rose. That crabapple tree is sure providing a source of food for them!

  27. Rose, you made me laugh with this post! I too love to watch birds and only know the most common ones. It seems like bird watchers get up too early in the morning . . . hmm . . . is "early bird" okay?

    A bright red headed woodpecker almost the size of a duck would be a pileated woodpecker in Maine - they are gorgeous! Woody was meant to be one although he is less than gorgeous.

    You got great bird shots despite your lack of zoom. All the reds in your garden are stunning.

  28. I bought Audobon's bird guide when I last visited the States - perhaps that could go on your pressie list too? I keep the British equivalent to hand right by the window as the best spot is nowhere near the computer.

    Like you my camera's totally inadequate for bird shots. Doesn't stop me trying though.

  29. Those photos are fantastic.
    So very colourful!!

    Bear((( )))

  30. How fun Rose! No wonder birds flock to your yard ... a 'cornucopia' of Thanksgiving treats!

  31. Thanks for visiting me on GBBD.
    This is a lovely post - and the colours are fabulous.
    The birds who visit your garden are certainly dinning well!

  32. Nonizamboni, Until you mentioned it, I hadn't even realized all the RED in the photos--I could have posted this for ABC Wed. after all!

    Racquel, The crabapple is amazing this year. It looks like it's decorated for Christmas.

    Sarah, Glad you enjoyed it; I tend to get a little silly at times. I saw the woodpecker again today--but of course he flew away just as I got my camera out! I think "early bird" is fine--that has a positive connotation, doesn't it:)

    VP, Ah, yes, I keep trying... A bird guide will be purchased soon, if it's not under the tree at Christmas.

    Bear Naked, Thanks; I hadn't even noticed all the red till it posted.

    Joey, Yes, I have quite a bird buffet right now:)

    Artistgarden, Thanks for stopping by! Yes, I don't notice any "skinny" birds here.


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