Twelve years of birding

It is with a heavy heart that I write my last “On Birds” column for this paper. Evidently, belt-tightening at the paper is the reason.

It has been a grand 12-year run, and I treasure every chance I’ve had to write about the wonder of birds, those jewels of our planet that offer a pathway into nature. In nearly 150 articles, I have done my best to entice you to find ways to bring nature into your own lives.

One of my first articles back in 1997 was titled, “Why I love to watch birds,” and so it seems fitting that this last article re-examines that theme through the lens of a dozen years of further reflection.

Back then, my focus was on what the birds offer us: colorful plumage, joyful song, the inspiration of flight and the marvel of migration. I wrote about my fascination with the diversity and elegance of their homes and the uniqueness of their behaviors.

Through the years, we have explored the various habitats where birds live and their adaptations for finding food and staying warm. And I’ve shared special moments like the time when a hummingbird took a shower from the hose that I was holding, and the moment I held a migratory rough-winged hawk in my hands.

Today, 12 years later, I am more concerned about what we can do for the birds. Bird-human interdependence runs deep and wide. The feathered miracles, which have entertained and at times even sustained me, deserve our thoughtful action now more than ever.

Seattle activist and environmentalist Hazel Wolf helped me understand and appreciate her mantra, which I am discovering is more true than I ever expected: “Everything is connected, absolutely everything.”

The bald eagles that nest on the Island and soar majestically over our heads have re-populated the Puget Sound region because we humans acted and banned the use of DDT back in the 1950s.

Great-horned owls fill the still night air on fall evenings with their soft “hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo,” in the cadence of, “Who’s awake, me too.” We might do well to change our cadence memory tool to: “Thanks for trees, save more,” reminding us to preserve trees not only in our parks but also in our neighborhoods.

Even on this early March day, a song sparrow belts out its song in Luther Burbank Park. It is there, in part, because the city has established restoration projects to preserve the natural habitat. This miniature musician will continue to sing and nest in the low shrubs as long as we all keep our dogs on leash while we enjoy the park and allow our pets to run free only in the new dog park.

Mallards mutter through the winter on Ellis Pond, showing their iridescent green heads and curly tail feathers. They are sustained by healthy weeds and insects (and the occasional bread crumbs) because we limit our use of pesticides and herbicides in surrounding gardens.

Warblers, swallows and thrushes will be arriving soon from Latin America to bless us with their colors and songs. If they could, they would thank you for drinking shade-grown coffee. The way your morning java is grown — using either traditional, sustainable methods or mega-agriculture — substantially affects the wintering habitat for these migrating birds.

Juncos, chickadees and towhees visit our seed feeders and bring life and joy to us even on housebound days. They thank you for planting native species in your gardens, which offer them the best of feeding and nesting opportunities.

Mercer Island hosts all five Western Washington woodpecker species. They are here because we have preserved larger dead trees and snags in Pioneer Park, other green spaces and backyards. If I’m not mistaken, their woodland tattoo now says, “Get rid of the invasive ivy.”

Now we have reached my parting words. Since we are still blessed with remnants of natural beauty, I invite you to step outside, breathe deeply and soak in some nature, realizing you are part of it all. Then listen for bird songs. I am convinced that birds have a special message for each and every one of us. You wouldn’t want to miss what is calling to you.

Keep track of my activities through my Web site, I will post my monthly articles there. Please continue to send me your bird stories and questions. I am only an e-mail away.

And by all means, keep birding!

Reach Frances at

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