Minden Press-Herald

Oct 01st

Fading of familiarity

When I was growing up out on the rural route, our yard was alive with the chirps and twitter of dozens of varieties of birds this time of year. In addition to the usual parade of mockingbirds, blue birds, cardinals, blue jays et al, reveille was sounded most mornings by the plaintive call of a bobwhite quail, a bird that is becoming increasingly rare today.

Not only are the bobwhites numbers spiraling downward, I can think of at least two other species, common to us as kids, that are infrequently seen today; the meadow lark and the shrike, or "butcher bird".

As the bobwhite, shrike and meadow lark are noticeably fading from the scene, other birds are moving in, birds that we never saw a few decades ago.

One such recent resident is the house finch. These fairly tame birds, which are on my feeders practically every day, were originally only a resident of Mexico and the southwestern US. In the 1940's they were introduced to the eastern US and many were sold illegally in New York City under the name of "Hollywood finches". Once the word spread that such practices were illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, vendors and owners of the birds released them. Today, house finches range over practically all of the country.

House finches closely resemble another bird frequently seen in this area, the purple finch. One principal difference is that if you see a bird this time of year, dull brownish and streaked with head, neck and shoulders being reddish in color, it's a house finch; purple finches are migratory and are only here in winter.

Another fairly new resident to north Louisiana is the Mississippi kite. I saw my first one several years ago when I was at Mitcham's peach orchard to buy peaches. Joe Mitcham pointed out a couple soaring high over his orchard. Since then, I've seen them regularly during warm months; these small birds of prey spend winters in subtropical South America.

Mississippi kites are strikingly beautiful birds. Twelve to 15 inches in length with a three foot wingspan, they scarcely weigh a pound. They are generally gray in color with the tail and outer wings a darker gray while the head and inner wings are a lighter gray.

I have been especially entertained by these handsome birds this summer as several have taken up residence at Lincoln Parish Park. Seldom do I walk the path around the lake that I don't see from one to four soaring above the lake or perching on the highest branch of a tall tree.

Mississippi kites build nests of twigs and lay two eggs. Both parents, similar in appearance, tend the young after hatching. They are also fierce defenders of the nest and will dive at perceived predators – including humans – if they venture too close. I may have escaped a dive bomb attack recently when I photographed a Mississippi kite perched on a fairly low limb, giving me the evil eye. I'm guessing there was a nest nearby.

As enjoyable as it is to watch kites and finches move in to make their homes here, I really miss being able to hear at daybreak the crisp three-note call of a bobwhite quail.






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