My Favorite Bird and My Birding Wish List

My favorite bird is the chimney swift (Chaetura pelagica).  I love to watch the way they fly.  They reach speeds of 150 mph and demonstrate great agility when they change directions to catch mosquitoes and flies.  They’re the only bird that can outmaneuver the peregrine falcon.  A colony of chimney swifts lives in my chimney.  I hear the roar of their wings every evening from late March to early August when they leave and enter my chimney.  Once in a while, I stand outside and watch them drop into my chimney.  They’ll be flying at over 100 mph and suddenly stop and drop straight down–an amazing feat of precision.  Formerly, before Europeans colonized North America and built chimneys, swifts nested in ancient hollow trees, especially sycamores.  J.J. Audubon found a colony in an old sycamore that had an estimated 9000 chimney swifts in it.  They construct their nests from twigs cemented together with their saliva.  My chimney swifts leave me by mid-August and spend their winters in somebody else’s chimney in South America.

Chimney swifts flying over someone’s chimney.  They’re my favorites.

I’m not one of those birding nuts who travels all over the world, so they can add bird species to their lifetime checklist, but there are 4 species of birds that live in Georgia I’d like to see.

Loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)

I have never seen a shrike of any kind.  They prefer old farm country with hedgerows, scattered short trees, and barbed wire or thorny bushes upon which they impale their prey.  They are in decline because farmland is being converted to 2nd growth forest and suburbs.  They hunt large insects, mice, and reptiles, including baby rattlesnakes.  Shrikes are songbirds without talons suitable for holding prey down while they tear off pieces of flesh  to feed, explaining why they impale their prey.  The thorns or barbs fasten down the prey while they peck at it.

Painted bunting (Passerina ciris)

I want to see this bird simply to admire its colorful beauty.  It’s rare today because it was overcollected by people wanting to keep them in cages.

Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis)

This 4 foot tall bird digs up roots and also eats animal matter.  J.J. Audubon saw them devouring sweet potatoes on old southern plantations.  A crane that he wounded on one occasion chased him back to his boat.  I have never seen a crane, even in captivity.  Nevertheless, hunters can legally kill them in 13 states, and Kentucky is considering enacting a crane hunting season.  Reportedly, their flesh tastes like ribeye steak.  I’ve eaten ostrich, and it tastes like beef filet mignon.  However, I think anybody who would kill a crane in this day and age is a stupid pig.  Game and fish commissioners are wrong to allow this bird to be hunted, just because their populations are beginning to rebound.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeartus leucocephalus) nesting pair on Berry College Campus, Rome, Georgia

I have seen bald eagles in Georgia on 2 occasions but not for 25 years, and I’d like to see them again.  I saw a bald eagle soaring high over a landfill in Evans, Georgia during the early 1980’s, and I saw another one in Columbus, Georgia in 1988 while on a business trip.  In 2011 there were 142 nesting pairs of bald eagles in Georgia.  The following year, a pair took up residence on the Berry College campus in Rome, Georgia.

Rare Birds I Have Seen Recently

Swallow tailed kite (Elanoides furficatus)

I see a lot of birds when I drive through Emanuel, Jenkins, and Burke County near Midville.  Birds like the varied habitat of farmland, 2nd growth forest, and swamp, especially the areas adjacent to the Ogeechee River and the Big Dukes Pond Natural Area which is a Carolina Bay.  A few days ago, I spotted a swallowtailed kite that I recognized by its unmistakeable forked tail.    Formerly, this bird was an abundant summer resident in the south, and small flocks even reached north central states.  But now, they are extirpated from the north and are rare in the south.  They fly with great speed and agility, and people liked the challenge of shooting them for the hell of it.  It didn’t take long to decimate their populations.  They primarily hunt large insects, including grasshoppers and dragonflies, which they catch while flying.  They also drink on the wing, like swallows.  They hunt snakes and lizards and took advantage of the frequent wildfires that occurred on primeval landscapes by catching insects and reptiles, fleeing the flames.

Wood Storks (Mycteria americana) in Georgia.

I’ve seen this bird on 3 occasions but have yet to visit the enormous nesting colonies located less than an hour’s drive from my house at Big Dukes Pond in Jenkins County, Georgia and the Audubon Nature Center in Jackson, South Carolina.  Much of the environment where they lived in Florida has been destroyed by development, so they’ve moved to more sites in Georgia.  They have beautiful black wings that contrast with their white bodies but man are their bills ugly.  I guess when they mate they put bags over their heads.

Red cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis)

I saw red cockaded woodpeckers in the St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge in Florida.  They’re a rather nondescript bird completely dependent upon open pine savannah habitat.

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3 Responses to “My Favorite Bird and My Birding Wish List”

  1. Conrad Berganza Says:

    You should visit Lakeland, Fl sometime we have Loggerhead Shrikes and Sandhill Cranes are everywhere even in the suburbs. There are Bald Eagles and Wood Storks at the lakes Downtown. I’ve seen Swallow-tailed Kites over my house in the suburbs many times. Unfortunately Painted Buntings are rare here but there are many other cool birds that are considered rare farther north that are common here.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    I would like to visit Lakeland, Florida, but that’s probably an 8 hour drive from my house.

  3. jamesrobertsmith Says:

    I saw Sandhill cranes in Yellowstone in 2010. I’m pretty sure I saw a pair walking into the Juniper Prairie Wilderness this year in Florida. I’m not positive, because they vanished into the high scrub before I could get close enough for a positive ID, but there aren’t many birds it could possibly have been (and it was a pair).

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