Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Jerry and I are on the fringe of being called birdwatchers. By that I mean you’d think after looking at birds for more than 20 years we’d definitely be eligible to assume that title, but for us birding has been just one of the little momentarily-enjoyed pleasures, not a passion. Consequently we are still awed and delighted by the simplest of avian things.

A few months ago we learned that a new book called “Backyard Birds of the Inland Empire” had arrived on the scene. Authored by Sheila N. Kee, who has birded around San Bernardino and Riverside counties for a long time, this book has been not only a delight to us but a really big help.

Yesterday I was reading in the book and found oodles of things that I didn’t know. I’ll just mention two of them.

First, I read that some birds put crushed or live ants in their feathers, thought to rid themselves of lice and mites.

Reading this reminded me of the many times my sister and I found a downed baby bird and carefully carried it to our mother, hoping she could make it fly. Mostly the reaction we got was that we needed to put it back out so its parents could find it and then immediately go wash our hands with something strong, like Fels-Naphtha soap, to rid ourselves of all the crawly things that birds had on them. If mother said there was lice and mites on birds we believed her, but never in my 75 years did I ever hear that some birds stuff ants in among their feathers for the same reason. Sheila Kee knows, and I believe her. I learned something new!

Second, I learned something about Barn Owls. I was perusing that section trying to determine if this is the critter that flies by our bedroom window just before dawn and just after dusk each day, screeching as it goes. On this page Sheila says, “Barn Owls are actually able to hear the sound of a mouse’s heart beating under three feet of snow!”

I mulled over this statement for a while, wondering how the mouse even managed to have a heart beat after being covered with three feet of snow. Or where was the owl whose hearing they tested? And who did the testing? And how did the owl let them know he/she heard the heartbeat? Oh gosh, I can think of lots more questions about that statement, and that made me laugh. But I think Sheila has made her point: barn owls hear EVERYTHING.

Evert single page of birder Kee’s book is interesting! And so readable. Actually, I think you’d find it interesting even if you aren’t a birder wannabe.

If you’ve ever had a canary or a parakeet, you know that birds molt. Well, in her book the author notes that certain birds have "prenuptial molts," and then after the nuptials are performed (heh, heh) they have "postnuptial molts."

There are odds and ends in this book that you won’t see in the regular tomes that real birders carry around to help them identify unusual birds. Those books, while exceedingly helpful (and of which we have two) are not designed to be read from cover to cover. Kee’s book is a real treat. I do not have to look through pages and pages to see all the possibilities. Except for a bird making an out-of-character stop in my back yard, I’ll undoubtedly find the odd bird in my yard quickly, because Kee has narrowed down the possibilities. If the bird is in my yard, Sheila Kee will have a picture of it in her book. It’s as simple as that. If Jerry and I don’t have my cousin Shirlee walking beside us to tell us what we are seeing, then we are the people for whom this book was prepared!

Barnes and Noble has the book. It’s beautiful, informative, classy, sturdy and well-thought out. All you have to do is to take a random look inside, on any page with - or even without - a bird photograph on it, and you’ll want to take one home so you can identify that little bird who wears a tuxedo and catches gnats on the wing in your front yard.

Thanks, Sheila N. Kee, for this amazing book.

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