A red-letter, um, rose-breasted day

Photo by Mike Truchon

Photo copyright Mike Truchon

I am upstairs getting ready to head out the door for the evening when my cell phone buzzes. “There’s a new bird at the feeder.” My sweetie’s voice from downstairs has that taut, measured tone that tells me he’s excited. “I’m coming,” I say, dropping everything.

The bird is a flapping melange of red, black, and white before he finally settles on a fir branch. His crimson bib is unmistakable. In the dusky light it fairly glows. Just like the one on the photo, his bib trails down his breast in a silky pink-red thread.

I can’t stop watching him. He perches quietly near our dining room windows, his breast turned full toward the house. I can hardly tear myself away. I sit and gaze until my neck aches from from looking up and I am a half hour late to my evening class.

I waited twenty-five years for this sighting!

Long before I became a birder, I had a friend who grew up on the Midwestern plains and loved rose-breasted grosbeaks. To me they were exotic–and remained so during my twenty years in the Bay Area, where they are only rarely sighted.

I didn’t count on seeing one here either, because Boulder lies at the very edge of their range. They only pass through here on their way north to breeding grounds in Canada.

But what I truly didn’t expect was that this bird’s bib would be so vivid–a dark-bright rosy red that no photo can do justice.

Is that why we love birds so much–that when we meet them in person they are so much livelier than we expect?

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4 Responses to A red-letter, um, rose-breasted day

  1. mandy says:May 21, 2009 at 10:36 am

    I’m not a birder but I do enjoy watching the birds in my garden in Niwot. Last year, I even had hummingbirds visit which I was really excited about. A question though – are you supposed to stop putting feed out come spring time or is it alright to do year-round? If you’re providing feed, what do you typically put out? Any tips for attracting hummingbirds?

  2. Julene says:May 22, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Priscilla, Thanks for introducing me to the rose-breasted grosbeak. What a beautiful bird! I grew up on the plains of western Kansas, but was not as attentive as I should have been when it came to birds. You’re now helping correct that failure to notice. Will you put me on your email list, if you have one for notifying readers when you post a new piece? I suspect I’ll learn much!

    • Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:May 22, 2009 at 1:00 pm

      Hi, Julene, thanks for stopping by! To get email updates, just go to the top of the page on the right-hand side and click the “Receive email updates” button. Let me know if it’s not working for some reason.

  3. Priscilla Stuckey, PhD says:May 22, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Hi, Mandy, as far as I can tell, no harm is done by feeding all year round. Audubon says whatever helps humans become more aware and appreciative of birds is a good thing. As far as type of food–different birds like different kinds of seed. Finches love thistle seeds; songbirds and backyard birds all seem to love sunflower seeds. For hummingbirds, consider planting flowers in the yard. Wild strains of plants and flowers often make more nectar than hybrids. Any local garden store will have info on planting the appropriate hummer garden for the local area. But hummers appreciate sugar water in a feeder too, especially when they’re raising babies. Enjoy!