A wizard’s pet and other holiday birds

The Nature Lover

A wizard’s pet and other holiday birdsBy DAN BURNETT

Images of the holiday season include many of winter. You see trees covered with snow and lots of winter animals. There are pictures of families clustered in front of roaring fires while decked out with sweaters and heavy clothes. Songs of the season abound, and people exchange cards – often with pictures of snow-covered hills, of kids skating on frozen ponds and of the birds of the holidays.

Well, here in the Indian Wells Valley, the holidays don’t look like those images. It isn’t quite the same here as in, say, Maine. Snow? Frozen skating ponds? Mittens and kittens and chestnuts roasting. . .? Hey, not here in the Mojave Desert!

We do have birds, but many of the holiday birds aren’t seen around these parts. Nonetheless, the holiday birds are amazing animals in that they stay the year round even where the winter weather stays well below freezing for months at a time! I guess that is why they have become birds of the holidays. During the holidays you may see them on cards and hear them mentioned in songs and might wonder about what those birds are.

So, here is some information about a few of those holiday birds you may never see here except on a card or in an advertisement.

Northern Cardinal – This is that cherry-red bird with the feathered top notch, black bill and bit of black on its face. It is the most common state bird in the USA. Even though it’s bright red, it is often hard to spot and sings so many songs that it can confuse most any bird-by-the-ear birder.

Bluejay – You may think you have seen bluejays here, but you haven’t. The ones on the cards are eastern birds. Powder blue with white faces outlined in black and a distinct top notch. Maybe they are scared of flying high because not many have made it over the Rocky Mountains. Our bluejays are the Steller’s Jay and Western Scrub Jay.

Canada Goose – The “honker” is a brown-bodied goose with a black neck and white on its cheeks. We usually have a handful of these here in the winter. They were a staple of early settlers along the east coast who hunted them by the thousands in the winter. They aren’t hunted much today so their numbers have soared. They are year-round residents now in places they couldn’t be found a hundred years ago.

Snow Goose – We do have these here by the hundreds in the winter. This is that big white bird with black wingtips that you see all over town during the winter. They are hard to miss flying from grassy area to grassy area in big “V” formations. Like the Canada Goose, they are not hunted much these days. Their range has spread across the country. Enough said, we all know these birds, especially the golfers amongst us.

Snowy Owl — You may know this owl as Harry Potter’s pet. In the winter it is white as snow, as its name suggests. In the summer it is white with grey and brown mixed in. It is a far-northern bird that doesn’t venture too far south of the Canadian border. In the winter it listens for mice and other rodents crawling beneath the snow, then digs down to catch them.

Black-capped Chickadee – This little bird with the black cap, black throat and greybrown back is another northern bird. It is a favorite at winter bird feeders. It is very common across the northern parts of the U.S.

For the holidays you might enjoy spreading some birds seed out in your back yard. Who knows, you might attract one of these holiday birds.

Story First Published: 2018-12-14