About Me

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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bird Brains

Hairy Woodpecker
(I thought is was a Downy at first but it was pretty big)

     Once the leaves have fallen and the thickets have died back, the birds seem to become visable for the first time. They flutter from one naked branch to another. After a snowy night they flock through yards searching for feed or scraps. I know when the birds in the yard because my cat meows at the window. But I never let the cat out on busy bird mornings because these tiny feathered friends facinate me, especially in winter when there is so little to study.
     Birds are loved animals. Unlike their relatives, the reptiles, people don't try to run over them in their cars or chop their heads off. No one has a songbird phobia. They way they move and fly has facinated people for years. Children smile at flocks of birds.
     In the country we spot nuthatches, finches, and even a cedar waxwing. In town the chickadees, bluebirds and robins are common. Both locations we see cardinals, blue jays, and downey woodpeckers. When in the country my favorite bird to watch is the reb-breasted nuthatch. They make me laugh. They are full of energy, chirping and chasing one another from the birdfeeder. In the city I love the sight and song of a robin, especially when they are excited about finding a good crop of green briar berries.
     I have always loved birds. As I kid I told my mother that when I grew up I wanted to be a bird, perhaps a chickadee. She told me about reincarnation and suggested that I might have been a bird in a previous life. I proclaimed that I wanted to be reincarnated as a bird in my next life, even after she told me that would be a regression since humans were above birds on the road towards enlightenment. I didn't care. I wanted to be a chickadee.
     Humans have huge brains. We believe that we are smarter than any other animal. It is true that birds have very small brains, because they have to be lightweight for flying, but that should not be cause for a judgment of stupidity. Chickadees, for example, regenerate new brain cells each year. Each day they replace up to two percent of the neurons in their hippocampus—the part of the brain that deals with memory—allowing extra space for them to remember where they hid their seeds. By being able to replace its brain cells they have an extremely good short term memory without needing large brains. Perhaps birds are smarted than we give them credit for.  


  1. My mom used to LOVE birds when she was alive, and we live back in the woods of Michigan -- and have several Woodpecker species. The Downy is smaller, though, so I believe that's the Hairy Woodpecker you captured!

    Happy Bird Watching xo

  2. Thanks! A Hairy Woodpecker then, great!

  3. In a hairy woodpecker the beak is almost as big as his head, while a downy's beak is much smaller. The hairy works mostly on trunks and minor branches, while a downy works on the smaller branches when it bothers to act like a woodpecker at all. Yours definitely looks like a hairy woodpecker.