Backyard Birds

I looked out the kitchen window yesterday morning and saw a mid sized bird perched on one of the barren limbs of my feral apple tree. I grabbed the binoculars off the coat rack to get a better look. A ruffed grouse, mottled brown and tan, puffed up against the cold, came into focus. The incident struck me as seasonally appropriate, the north coast equivalent of a partridge in a pear tree.

I looked out the kitchen window yesterday morning and saw a mid sized bird perched on one of the barren limbs of my feral apple tree. I grabbed the binoculars off the coat rack to get a better look. A ruffed grouse, mottled brown and tan, puffed up against the cold, came into focus. The incident struck me as seasonally appropriate, the north coast equivalent of a partridge in a pear tree.

This was our second grouse this year. The first did not fare as well as the apple tree bird. Shortly before the first snow fall, Cait and I were working in the kitchen, I on my laptop, trying to find the best move in one of my internet chess battles, she at the counter, baking, when we were startled by a loud thump against the back of the house.

What the…? said Cait.

The window, I said, pulling on my boots so that I could go out and investigate. When I found it, the grouse was stone dead, apparently killed upon impact with the smallest window in the back of the house, and, surprisingly, one that had a drawn curtain behind the glass. I could only assume that the poor bird was in the midst of a fright flight, fleeing some neighbourhood cat perhaps. I picked up its corpse by the tail feathers determined that its carcass should not go to waste.

Ooh, how can you pick that thing up? asked Cait as she watched me carry it off to my shop.

If you’ve ever plucked a chicken, plucking a grouse is much the same. Grouse feathers are ideal for

imitating the legs of aquatic insects. The Grouse and Green is a soft hackled fly that has fooled trout for two centuries. When I was through plucking, I had a large zip locked freezer bag full of delicate brown feathers of all sizes, enough to tie more soft hackled trout flies than I would ever need.

There, I said to Egan, our orange tom cat who had been sitting attentively beside me on the fly tying bench during the entire operation, is a bird that did not die in vain.

As I disposed of the naked body, I remembered how Doug had said grouse were really delicious. He made motions with his thumbs demonstrating how to remove a grouse breast. It was one of those operations you have to perform a few times to learn. Had Doug not been in Courtney helping his mom, I would have called and offered him the breast of the poor bird so that even less of it would have gone to waste.

A few weeks prior to the grouse’s mishap, a varied thrush smacked into one of the large windows. I rushed out hoping the bird was still alive. It was. I gently scooped it up. The swamp robin looked up at me. As it did, I felt the warmth leave its body and saw the light in its black eye go dim then disappear. A shiver of sadness passed through me as I marvelled at the bird’s delicate russet breast feathers and the geometry of its understated markings.

These window crashes started me worrying. We added five large windows when we renovated our bungalow.

Did the newly created geometry of edges and light trick birds into believing they could fly straight through without mishap? I made a pledge to stick some hawk silhouettes on the windows if one more bird immolated itself.

The strangest back yard avian encounter so far happened on a summer day before the end of the school term. I was working in the garden when I heard a piercing peep in the distance. As I continued to work, the peeping became more frequent and came closer. I looked up from my shovelling to see a duckling waddling across the grass peeping in forlorn desperation. I downed tools and attempted to catch the little fellow but before I could, it disappeared in the tall grass. Try as I might, I couldn’t see it. The peeping continued as the poor creature waddled deeper into the woods where it would surely be a meal for a martin, a raven, a hawk or a fox.

Did you lose a pet duck, MacKenzie? I asked the neighbour’s little girl, who was playing in the yard later that day.

No.

Do you know anyone who did?

No, she said.

How that duckling got there remains a mystery.

Ravens bound for nesting grounds in the spring, Stellar’s jays year round, pieliated woodpeckers, flickers, juncoes, thrushes, chickadees, doves from Asia, and many other species besides, provide us with entertainment and remind us it’s good to live on the edge of the woods.

Be Among The First To Know

Sign up for a free account today, and receive top headlines in your inbox Monday to Saturday.

Sign Up with google Sign Up with facebook

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Reset your password

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

A link has been emailed to you - check your inbox.



Don't have an account? Click here to sign up
Pop-up banner image