Monday, November 16, 2009

a visitor

It's that time of year when we are "allowed" to feed the birds. I say "allowed" because we're discouraged from putting bird feed in our feeders during the summer months for fear that it will entice the bear population into our back yards. And it does. We've had bear feed on our birdseed in year's past. But now the Fish and Wildlife people encourage us to not put food out during certain months of the year.... or when the bear are out. Now that they're in hibernation, we can, once again, feed the birds. And mine get a real smorgasbord of food throughout the winter months!

I've never been very good at identifying birds. Maybe it's because they don't stand still long enough for me to study them, or maybe it's because there are often more than one than could fit the bill. I am confident in identifying my Chickadees, Juncos, Pine Siskins, Stellar Jays, and a few others that are constant visitors.

But yesterday we had a visitor. A Northern Pygmy Owl! I think.... (I'm waiting to hear back from the Audubon Society to see if they can identify it for me.) I just happened to walk into the back room to watch the birds feeding, and, there, on the deck I saw two birds fighting. Or I thought they were fighting. After that first glance, I noticed that they weren't fighting, but that one bird had the other one in it's claws. As I looked closer (and he was only about 6' away), I noticed a baby owl with a Junco in his grips! I couldn't believe my eyes! But regardless of how rare or how cute he was, he wasn't going to come onto my property for his meals! As I opened the door to "shooo" him away, he flew up onto a bird post--with the Junco in his talons! That, in itself, was a feat because the owl wasn't much bigger than the Junco. I ran out to shoo him again, and he flew off with the Junco! Somehow the Junco managed to get loose and fly away, and I can only hope that he was okay.

I followed the owl to where he was perched in a tree. He was only about 4-5' above me, perched so cute on this branch. Watching me. Staring at me. Probably really pissed that I made him lose his dinner! I was able to get some pictures; not very good, but you can see how cute he was. He just sat there, watching me. I couldn't believe I was watching an owl. In the day time!

I did my best in looking him up in the Guide to the Birds of Alaska and believe he was a Northern Pygmy-Owl. I think..... See what I mean about not being so good at identifying birds. It LOOKS like one.... but it's RARE to see one in SE Alaska..... Okay, so this was a rare siting.... He was only about 7" big, had no ear tufts, and a yellowish beak. The reason I picked him over another small owl is because the bird guide says that daytime activity is a diagnostic feature of this particular owl. So there you have it.

I stayed on guard at the back door, watching him for quite awhile yesterday, as he stayed perched on one of the pruned branches of the spruce tree. It just happened to be in the middle of the bird feeders, where he had a birds-eye view of what was going on. His presence didn't seem to stop the Chickadees and Juncos from coming back to eat.... At least he didn't nab another poor bird on my watch! At least not that I saw....

He's welcome to come visit anytime.... And he's even welcome to nibble on any mice he can find... But he's not welcome to nab my birds, in plain site, off my deck!

Cheers! Nancy