The white-breasted nuthatch has his head and jet-black beak pointed up the jacaranda tree as he scurries from trunk to limb to the hanging bird feeder. I’ve seen him in our yard almost every day this summer, along with numerous graceful Western bluebirds, a flock of mini “cheeping” birds called bushtits, and many more San Diego County natives.
The hermit thrush and California thrasher have disappeared altogether. Gargamel was my name for one thrasher, with his strange, curved bill and long-legged walk. Something about that bird really reminded me of the Smurfs cartoon character. These wild locals come to our yard looking for special offerings in various feeders and shallow-water birdbaths spread front and back.
After moving to Lakeside, I picked up this new hobby. I buy wild birdseed and put out daily offerings, hoping to catch a glimpse of the many beautiful birds we have flocking to our neighborhood. Much as the VFW hall is to the human snowbirds, our yard is a meeting place, crowded with eating and socializing. White-crowned sparrows dot the fence in a line, like a little army with matching black-and-white striped helmets. They arrive with the cool nights and vanish at the first sign of spring. Winter also brings countless dark-eyed juncos, popping their little round heads out of manicured shrubs. They look like ornaments on a Christmas tree.
The full-timers consist of loud, marauding jays, bright-yellow American goldfinches, chattering rufous-sided towhees, frolicking California towhees, and several generations of black-headed grosbeaks. I can depend on the black phoebe for backyard insect removal. After nabbing her meal, she lands on my clothesline, causing it to jump and dip under her lightweight frame.
Many birds comb through the yard looking for nesting supplies. An industrious hooded oriole spent an entire spring day stripping Mexican fan palms. After gathering the threads, she carries them one at a time to the top of a eucalyptus tree, weaving an intricate basketlike nest.
We have a tall, dark-eyed, long-necked thief in our neighborhood. This persistent snowy egret can eat as many goldfish as we will supply. First he lands on the roof, like a stork minus the baby, and then he waits for an opportunity. He is like a criminal after glittering gold, submerged in the pond. After the pillaging, he flies away slowly, lifting his long legs into position, like an airplane bringing up the landing gear.
We fall asleep to the sounds of a barn owl. He sits atop the wood fence looking regal, the moonlight shining white off of his cloak of multicolored plumage. Quiet whooos murmur through the night air. Then a loud screech as he dives for his prey, plucking a rat from the backyard bird feeder.
Each morning we wake to a scrub jay mutiny in the backyard. They demand a breakfast of peanuts at sunrise, bickering and complaining several feet from our bedroom window. There’s a northern mockingbird making loud, clacking sounds in the front yard. He scratches around on the ground under the hanging feeder. His long, straight, rectangular tail flicks around in the air, like the spoon handle stirring my morning coffee.
The bird population is growing in our yard. With each new arrival, I’m reminded of a rare sighting in the past. The lazuli bunting is one of the most rare. These small birds have neon-blue feathers, so bright that they seem to glow in the daylight. For several days they took over the feeders, about 20 birds scattered around the yard. Then they left as promptly as they showed up. Haven’t seen them since.
We watched a titmouse as he built his nest in a birdhouse above the feeders. His crested head and circular eyes popped in and out as he watched the babies grow. Finally they grew too big for the little wooden box, causing the whole family to relocate. They have come back to visit, but never again to that birdhouse.
Recently, on a long morning walk with that energetic dog of mine, I spotted the most rare of all Lakeside avians. I heard the squawking and talking of many birds, perched high up in a tall eucalyptus. I could see the short, stocky birds outlined by the morning sun. Recognizing these unique silhouettes and familiar sounds, I was brought back to a childhood in Ocean Beach.
“Lakeside parrots?” I asked, with my face pointed upward in awe. I could see at least ten small, noisy parrots, stretching and preening themselves. As we walked home, I hastily planned my next trip to buy birdseed, and I wondered, What do parrots like to eat?