Flutter

Townsend's Solitaire

A fluttering of wings draws my attention.

Townsend's SolitaireLooking out of my window, I see a Townsend’s solitaire beating its wings and attacking its reflection in the side mirror of my parked car. It has been there for hours. Long strokes of white droppings adorn the side of my car. At first I assume the bird must be a male defending its territory.

Townsend’s solitaires are a drab gray relative of the American robin that most people wouldn’t even notice. They are not showy.

Male birds are usually the ones with colorful plumage but that is not the case with solitaires; the male and female look almost identical. I guess they decided not to follow the theory that a male is more brightly colored to attract females and the female has duller colors so she can sit undetected on a nest.

Solitaire3I watch the bird pause in its attack on my car as it flies into a nearby Western juniper tree. An orange crescent of plumage flashes on its outstretched wings only to disappear again as it settles into the tree. The bird is camouflaged by the gray bark on the twisted form of the tree. Its darker flight and tail feathers blend into the cracks and crevasses of the tree’s bark.  It pulls off some of the juniper cones, tilts its head back, and gulps them down quickly. I see the flash of orange again when it flies up to the top of the tree.

In the fall and winter months, solitaires develop a one-track mind about what they will eat. They feed almost exclusively on the small purplish cones, otherwise known as berries, of the juniper tree.  While we may think of these cones as being good for nothing but the production of gin, they provide all that solitaires need.  The adaptable and much maligned Western juniper tree is being removed in parts of the West but solitaires and other animals often rely on it for food and shelter.

As their name implies, Townsend’s solitaires spend much of their time alone. They are a Greta Garbo type of bird. Solitaires often perch atop a juniper in a very upright position like a guard standing at attention.  The bird will remain quiet and motionless until there is a need for defense.

Solitaire2The bird in my yard opens its beak to sing. The melodious song is surprisingly complex. The clear flute-like notes ring out and fill the sky. It starts calling. The one short note is a loud attention-grabbing whistle that is repeated over and over again.  It’s like a bird version of a smoke alarm.

Male songbirds defend their territory by singing and calling around its borders.  They essentially create a musically-charged “fence” around the boundaries. Townsend’s solitaire females also defend their territory. They will aggressively defend an area long past the breeding season. The females take an active role in protecting a productive juniper patch.

The solitaire returns to my car and perches briefly on the mirror. Its head is cocked to one side as it peers at the image of its perceived foe with a dark eye lined in creamy white.

Solitaire4I have learned to accept the unexpected. Those that first appear drab and dull may surprise you. Their colors may be hidden. Their voices may be quiet. They might be female. Give them a chance – look for the flash of color, listen to their song, and admire their strength.

A fluttering of wings draws my attention.

5 thoughts on “Flutter

  1. That was quite a commentary on the Solitaire.

    What jumped out at me from your post is the quality of being in the moment. And as you observed the bird, other aspects from your past knowledge base and imagination linked in to create such a wonderful post. This is what creativity is all about I suppose.

    Shakti

  2. Pingback: Trout Creek Hike | bend branches

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