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The Roving Sportsman… Yardbirds

I believe that if you grew up in Lycoming County or have moved and now reside here, you are indeed lucky. I had the good fortune to have lived in the area from birth through my college years and have, for the past 22 years, resettled in the rolling hills of North Central Pennsylvania. For an outdoors person or someone who loves nature and all of its wonders, there is so much to offer throughout the area. One particular offering is the abundance and variety of yardbirds. OK, yardbirds is a rather made-up word, but I wanted to talk about songbirds; but also wanted to include a bird or two that I never really heard “sing,” so I’ll use the term yardbirds to include them as well!

In the years leading up to college, I resided “up the ‘Sock,’” finally settling into a small farm at the base of Katie Jane mountain (across the creek and to the west of Shore Acres, now known as Pier 87). I fondly recall the occasional whistle of a bobwhite quail and the more frequent cackle of a rooster pheasant throughout the day. Of particular interest were the owls. Both Great Horned owls and Screech owls were common, and on many warm summer evenings, I could “talk” to them by merely mimicking their calls. Distant Great Horned owls would often respond and even land nearby to try to locate the “bird” that was returning their call.

Screech owls would sometimes land as close as the tree I was standing under. These days, it is rare for me to hear either one of these birds.

In the last two decades, as I hike in and around where I now live, there are an amazing variety of bird colors to see and songs to hear. Goldfinches, Eastern bluebirds, Baltimore orioles, and Rufus-sided towhees are abundant. In the last several years, the Cardinals (called “Redbirds” throughout the South!) have been showing up and singing their unique call. Cedar waxwings and Blue Jays often show themselves, and on special occasions, even the elusive Scarlet tanagers and Indigo buntings can be seen.

House wrens that nest nearby can often be seen chasing away any other wrens that dare to invade their territory, and even more so, you can frequently see Ruby-throated hummingbirds buzzing by at breakneck speeds driving away any other intruding hummingbirds.

No, I have never heard the call or song of a hummingbird, perhaps because the size of their call is somehow equal to the size of their body, but all other birds that I see have a unique call, or in many cases, an easily identifiable song. When one mimics their song, some of these birds will respond by calling back and forth and sometimes even fly closer to investigate. Particularly vocal are the male Cardinals, the Eastern bluebirds, and the Baltimore oriole.

Several summers ago, over the period of almost two months, there was a particular Baltimore oriole that was extremely responsive to calling. I would hear him in the distance and would reply in kind to his call. Within a very few minutes, he would fly to a nearby tree.

If I ever slept in past daybreak, he would fly and flutter at my bedroom window searching for his calling buddy!

It is a true story!

There are a few things that you can do if you would like to attract more birds for your enjoyment of observing. Certainly, adding a bird feeder or two is the simplest way, but eventually, black bears may become a problem. They have an amazing sense of smell, and the aroma of black oil sunflower seeds will bring them in from miles away. And while a sugar solution in a hummingbird feeder can provide hours of entertainment, it too will eventually be an attractant to bears.

If bears are a problem or if they become a problem, you might consider installing a bird bath or two.

They will be visited and used by a variety of small birds that otherwise might be spending their time out of sight in the nearby fields and woods.

Whether you call them songbirds or yardbirds, these often colorful singers can add hours of enjoyment for anyone who has a true appreciation regarding the wonders of nature.