Before moving to Northeast Oregon, my husband Bill and I awoke many mornings to the sounds of avian life at full volume outside our bedroom window.
Cooing sandhill cranes soared over our house. Killdeer issued high, plaintive warnings. Snipes winnowed. Nighthawks gave a nasal “peent” sound as they perched in a nearby black locust tree. Ducks, geese, chickadees, western meadowlarks and a multitude of other birds woke us better than any alarm clock.
At the time, we lived in Paisley, a tiny town in southeast Oregon. Our home sat close to a variety of ecosystems: high desert, the Chewaucan River, forest and marshlands. Driving the highway that cut through town, one had to keep the speed down in order to avoid hitting birds.
One day I drove home from the nearest town (Lakeview) a little too fast. A startled raptor rose from the road carrying a dead rabbit. The bird couldn’t get enough lift so he released his payload. The carcass hit my windshield with a whap — sounding like a ham hitting glass at 70 miles-per-hour — and slid messily down the window.
It was Wild Kingdom every day.
Then we moved.
Our new house in Pendleton sat on bare dirt in a brand new neighborhood. Landscaping was yet to come in our yard and many of those around us.
One of the first things we did that late spring was hang bird feeders. We waited and waited. Cue the recording of the lone cricket — without the cricket. Our yard remained distressingly quiet.
Bill, a wildlife biologist who just recently retired from the Forest Service, loves birds. He did his master’s thesis on bird communities of old-growth pine forests. As a birdwatcher, Bill keeps a life list of birds he has spotted and other lists just for birds that visit our yard.
Bill determinedly set about attracting birds to our yard. Except for the lawn, he would grow only native plants in the backyard. He visited local nurseries for a variety of native forbs, shrubs and trees which he planted. The plants grew quickly and now provide a variety of seeds, berries and nectar. Most require little water.
In months, vegetation encircled our yard in a thick ribbon that included serviceberries, currants, ninebark, ocean spray, mock orange, honeysuckle, chokecherry, cascara, coneflower, sunflowers, snowberry, hawthorn and paper birch. A robust dogwood produces berries and cover, as well as attractive mid-winter color. Oregon grape provides berries. While not native, a bird-planted mulberry now provides shade, cover and fruit.
The sounds emanating from our backyard are confirmation that if you plant it, they will come.
Many species of birds now drop into our yard regularly. I recently flipped Bill’s bird log open to a page titled “Yard List Pendleton.” Written there are the names of 28 bird species he has spotted over time in our little yard. The list includes the California quail, American goldfinch, western meadowlark, northern flicker, sharp-shinned hawk, western tanager, spotted towhee and on and on. On another page are birds who didn’t land, but flew over: osprey, northern harrier, Canada goose, Cooper’s hawk, white pelican and a great blue heron.
Mornings (and every other time of day) are once again a time of bird chatter. It’s a happy sound. My bird-loving husband is once again content — and so am I.
Kathy Aney writes about human interest and health for the East Oregonian. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 541-966-0810.