The Reluctant Birder

by Molly Steere

This article was originally posted on the Visit Wenatchee Valley blog.

I have fostered an irrational fear of birds for the majority of my life. Maybe it’s because I saw Hitchcock’s The Birds at a young age and it scarred me for life . . . or at least the first few decades of my life. However, after moving to the Wenatchee Valley ten years ago, I’ve slowly been warming up to our feathered friends.

One of the great horned owls that took up residence in Molly’s shop

It started with the two great horned owls that moved into the shop we were building. They were huge and magnificent and I immediately developed an obsession with owls to the point that we named our property Hootin’ Holler after the pair. As excited as I was to finally move out of our RV and into the building, I was sad that it meant the owls would move out, which they did but not before giving us the stink eye for a few days.

Once we settled into the apartment above the shop, my son and I visited Wild Birds Unlimited and they helped us pick out a hummingbird feeder for our garden. The hummingbirds found the feeder quickly and became faithful visitors to our garden. I found that Wild Birds Unlimited, located at 212 Fifth Street near Garlini’s, is a wealth of information for beginner birders and experienced birders alike. Their staff is friendly and knowledgeable and a huge help to a new and somewhat reluctant birder like me. Plus, their website is packed with helpful information about local birds, upcoming bird watching walks and talks, feeding information, and links to other informative birding sites.

After installing the hummingbird feeder, I was feeling pretty smug about actually inviting birds into my space. Our whole family enjoyed watching the gorgeous hummingbirds feed and flit about and they didn’t freak me out like crows still do (hey, I’m a work in progress).  To me, hummingbirds are airborne art with their delicate frame, iridescent feathers, and extraordinary ability to fly backward and upside down.

A newly hatched killdeer rests near two well-camouflaged eggs

The next bird to win my affection was the killdeer. Every spring a pair makes their nest on the edge of our gravel driveway (I question the intelligence of this decision, but we’re thrilled to have them). I use the word “nest” loosely. They choose a depression among the rocks and usually don’t even line it before they lay their eggs — eggs that are so camouflaged our military should contract with them.

The killdeers charmed me with their unique way of luring my dog away from their nest. Whenever we walk down the driveway, one of the birds flies about 20 yards away and squawks loudly while staggering about with its wing out at an odd angle, pretending it’s broken. This, of course, catches my dog’s attention and she runs after it. The killdeer continues to run away from the nest until the dog is within a couple of feet of it and then the bird flies off with its perfectly functioning wings. At this point, the dog is far away from the nest and the eggs are safe.

Now that my cold, hard heart is warmed up to some birds, my son convinced me to help him build a birdhouse and bird feeder. We consulted the internet and came up with plans for both. The bird feeder is a huge hit, attracting chattering birds every morning. I’m not sure that the house we built will be used for anything other than decoration, but it was a super fun project to work on together. Now my son is pushing me even further outside my comfort zone by insisting we go to some of the local bird walk and talks offered throughout the valley.

The North Central Washington Audubon Society and Chelan Douglas Land Trust maintain a list of upcoming bird walks and talks along with the WenatcheeOutdoors outdoor calendar. My son and I have put a few of the events on our calendar and are looking forward to learning how to identify some of the many local birds in our valley.

I still pretend to hate birds, but if I’m honest, I’m actually a little smitten with them. The North Central Washington region has so many stunning birds that I can see daily (if I’m observant) including red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, ospreys, herons, quail, pheasants, and all of the hilarious backyard birds that gossip and bicker at the feeder each morning. The Wenatchee Valley will make a birder out of me yet.

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