Bird Life (and death) on Goose Creek

Indigo Bunting: the window glass a portal to the next life
Indigo Bunting: the window glass a portal to the next life

My mom was here for a few days last week. We were chatting about one of her trips to Virginia back long ago when we’d first moved here. She heard the kids–who were 3 and 8 at the time–talking about the “indigo bunny” they’d seen. She had never seen a sky-blue rabbit so naturally she was curious.

She remembered a view of the bird–by a similar name–for the first time on our gravel road later that visit. She was stunned by the color–deep irridescent blue, always her favorite.

On the second day of her visit last week, she and I stood out by the garden taking in the first warmth of the sun as it crests the eastern ridge.

“There!” and I nudged her arm and pointed to the top of the tallest tree across the road–the bare gaunt branches of a dying hemlock.

“Listen. They sing everything in pairs” and I crudely mimicked the Indigo Bunting’s whistled couplets so she could pick out the call the next time the bright blue male warned away other male intruders into his territorial claim.

“You almost always see them far away and high up” I said. And the very next day, the one you see here was dead on the front porch. I think that must have been the thump on the window just above my desk the day before .

Sorry the beak is not in focus; the color pattern is unlike any of the pictures of the bird I find, though the dark upper bill and lighter lower bill seems common.

From the back porch that same day I’d heard the distinctive shrill warble of one of our black-on-red Scarlet Tanagers and called mom out to listen.

“You rarely see them after the leaves come out” I said, and just then the brilliant male moved to a branch to the outside of the maple’s shadowed branches into a shaft of morning sun. Mom had the binocs and with a little roving, found the bird, watching it sing its song as if it were performing at the Met. How cool was that!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. what a beautiful bird…..such a shame to have it die.

    I was just reading the other day about not washing your house windows…… that birds could see the glass, so as to aviod such a death…..also it mention placing decals, or something on windows, to help the birds see the glass…………

    I like to keep my windows clean, so I vote for placing decals, or some sort of frosted design on the windows………


  2. What Mark says about washing windows doesn’t help – I haven’t washed my windows in…um…ever, and birds and bugs still fly into it regularly. (I have a photo I took where you can see the perfect outline of a dove in the dust where it hit the window, feathers and all. It lived.)
    I have been teaching my 3 yr old about birds a little. We’re on a good migration path so we see a lot in the fall and spring on their way to nicer places. Though just recently I discovered that the vermilion flycatcher I’d seen in the park is a permanent resident, according to our neighbor.

  3. I’m still going to try the dirty-window-save-a-bird method–as long as the Boss will let me get away with it. Man, that’s really high quality dust to save a dove face-plant! I’m impressed!