I had a good friend who taught me about the science of birds, which made me a more keen observer. Every time I go birding, I remember what I learned from him as I mentally note all the things that will help me identify the bird if I don’t already know it. What is it’s relative size: bigger or smaller than a robin; does it have wing bars; what shape is the beak – short, long, pointed, or stubby; does it have an eye ring or a cap on its head? These are all things anyone can learn to observe with practice. These are also some of the details that will help narrow down your choices when you look through your bird book. I’ll address bird book choices in another post, for now I want to write about “cute” birds.
My friend had an aversion to using the term “cute” when referring to birds or beasts, as to him, it was a human construct of appearance that he felt was a dishonor to any non-domestic creature. Well, I almost agreed with him until I met the really little birds, especially the Common Yellowthroat, the Bushtit, and the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. These birds are very definitely “cute”.
The Common Yellowthroat: a 5-inch, compact little grayish bird with a bright yellow throat. The male sports a black Zorro-type mask. He flits around close to the ground in marshy habitat, but moves to an open perch so his distinctive wichety wichety wichety wich call can be heard far and wide. A little bird with a big voice.
Then there is the Bushtit. At only 4.5 inches, Bushtit busily hops from branch to branch to branch, constantly gleaning insects or seeds from trees and shrubs. They have few distinctive features, being an overall gray bird with no eye ring or wing bars, but in some areas of the country, there is a brownish head. It does, however have a long skinny tail. This bird does not have a big voice but makes cute little scratchy sounds. You have to listen and look pretty hard to see this guy, but it is so worth the effort. By the way, the male has black eyes and the female’s eyes are gold
The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher is an elegant little bird. The long, black tail accounts for almost half of the entire 4.5 inches. There are also white outer tail feathers and a distinctive white eye ring on this mostly blue-gray bird. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are pretty solitary but I have seen a pair of them tending a nest in the woods along the river where I walk this spring. The black forehead on this bird helps identify it. His song is a wheezy call with little chips in between. Once you learn this bird’s call, you will know how to find it.
I’ve noticed that the little birds are the busiest birds. They constantly flit about making it difficult to capture them in the lens of my binoculars. It takes persistence, but these birds are so cute, it’s worth giving it the time. I am working on a painting of a Common Yellowthroat.