Summer Tanager

Photo by Carolynn Waites

I’m not a big birder. But I have realized that paying attention to birds is rewarding in some ways:

  • It gets you outside.
  • It gets you to pay attention to the nature that is around you.
  • You get to see some pretty cool birds that you have never noticed before.
  • You may actually learn something.

I work on Galveston Island. Other than the commute, it’s a great place to work. This time of year, it is spectacular with flowers and birds. A photographer told me that 80% of migrating birds come through Galveston. I have to believe that might be true based on what I’ve been seeing lately.

I was on my lunch break the other day, eating outside to take advantage of the beautiful day. I saw a yellow bird flying from tree to tree near me. I was trying to follow it and get my camera out to get a picture so I could figure out what it was. I lost it. But while looking for it, I found this red bird pictured above. The only red bird I am familiar with is the male cardinal. This is obviously not a cardinal. I ended up getting some great pictures of this red bird, though I never saw the yellow bird again.

When I had access to a computer later, I was able to identify this bird as a male Summer Tanager. Beautiful! The best part of the story is that the female Summer Tanager is yellow! So that was his mate that I was following. Apparently they nest together in the treetops (they like oaks and pines) and they eat insects, often bees and wasps. I read that they will take the bee or wasp in their beak and bang it into the tree to knock the stinger off before they eat it.

According to the book The Birds of Texas by John L. Tveten, The Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) is the most widespread and abundant tanager in Texas. Why have I never seen one before??? Oh yeah– because I haven’t been paying attention. So once again I remind all of us to look up. Pay attention to the nature around you. You might just get to see something truly beautiful.

Backyard Birding

Birds in Birdfeeder (2)
Photo by Carolynn Waites

It was a beautiful day yesterday. My husband and I took full advantage of the glorious weather by spending most of the afternoon on our back patio watching the birds hanging around our bird feeder.

I took photos so I would be able to identify the birds that visited. None of the pictures turned out great because I was zoomed in all the way, but they were good enough for identification purposes.

The three birds that are sharing the feeder in this photo above are (from left to right) a House Sparrow, a Dove, and a Red-winged Blackbird. These are all common birds in the Houston area, but before yesterday I did not know what the small brown and white birds were that love my backyard: House Sparrows.

House Finch 2
Photo by Carolynn Waites

On the right is a picture of another interesting bird that was spending time with us. We were fascinated by the impressive red coloring around his head and breast. I compared my photos with an on-line bird identification guide and learned that it is a House Finch. They are also supposed to be fairly common in our area, but I honestly can not tell you if I have ever noticed one before.

I have a number of books about local birds, but the pictures never seem to look like the birds that I am trying to identify. I have fallen in love with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. If you want to know anything about birds, this is a fantastic site. I find their identification tools to be extremely helpful.

I have always enjoyed watching the birds in my backyard, but have never taken the time before yesterday to learn about our feathered guests. I enjoyed a beautiful day with my husband, furnished some local birds with a tasty treat, and educated myself on my own backyard ecosystem.

No matter where you are, when you step outside take a moment to breathe deeply and notice your natural surroundings. Even if you are in the middle of a concrete jungle, there is still nature coexisting with the city. Take a moment out of your day to enjoy the life outside of your own.