A Rainbow of Birds

by | May 10, 2024 | Ground Work | 4 comments

As a little kid, if asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d respond, “I’m going to get a PhD in Ornithology.” Weird? Cute? Definitely nerdy. I birdwatched with my dad, loving it, and the birds. Though I did not reach the lofty goal I set for myself, I still love birds. However, on the scale of serious birders (let’s say 1-10), I’m down around a 3 or 4—I have no life list, warblers generally baffle me, and I can only recognize about five birds by their songs. Still, almost every day I hike, I bring my not-birder-serious, but very-lightweight binoculars with me, and take delight in the birds I see and hear.

Particular favorites are Mountain bluebirds who winter in the junipers of the Sandia Mountain foothills. If you have never seen a Mountain bluebird, they are, in a word, stunning. Each fall, I rejoice in their return. And in late winter/early spring, I prepare myself for their departure, savoring each day I spot them, knowing they will fly north soon. I saw them into March this year, later than they usually depart, and was thrilled for every extra day I had with them. For me, they really are the Bluebirds of Happiness. But I love the whole rainbow of birds I get to see throughout the year.

While watching a Ladder-backed woodpecker at our feeder, I thought about that rainbow (remember ROY G. BIV from grade school—the mnemonic device for the colors of the rainbow). Though I grew up back east seeing bold red Cardinals, the desert is not their habitat (their paler crested cousins, the Pyrrhuloxia are here though), still I see many birds with flashes of red, like the Ladder-backs with their scarlet caps and red-shafted Northern Flickers, one of whom posed nicely for me on our parapet. For orange, bright Bullock’s orioles and more muted Black-headed grosbeaks visit us in spring. And yellow, well, our springtime visitors, the Western tanagers, are certainly flashy in that department, and the males in mating plumage are wearing the whole ROY of ROY G. BIV. Lesser goldfinches are year-round yellow friends. Green is tougher, as only rarely do Green-tailed towhees stop at our feeder, with their rusty red raised caps and olive-greenish tails. For blue, you can’t beat the bright Mountain bluebirds, and I count our year-round resident Western bluebirds (who are different, but no less spectacular than their Mountain cousins) as our indigo birds. I can’t think of any violet winged visitors in the desert (oh wait, what about the iridescent purple flashes of Black-chinned hummingbirds!), but the Purple martins who I see all summer while sailing the Salish Sea, complete my rainbow of birds. And in addition to their visual beauty, oh, how I love their songs…

A Curve-billed thrasher on a desert perch

Just when I’m missing the Mountain bluebirds who have migrated north, a Curve-billed or Crissal thrasher atop a cholla or juniper will sing a long, sweet serenade—calling for a mate, signaling spring, and filling my heart with as much joy as any bluebird.

What fills your heart with joy?

P.S. – How could I not mention our New Mexico state bird, the Roadrunner! With its eye stripe, and personality, a colorful bird for sure.

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  1. Judi

    Of late I have been filled with joy when birds come to my garden to bathe in my numerous water bowls. Lately a couple of beefy robins visit several times a day and splash around in a bowl I had originally designed for bees, with glass pebbles in the bottom.

  2. Serin

    Love this post! I’ll have to lend you my rainbow of birds puzzle ????????????

  3. Evey Jones

    Sweet article as I am enjoying my first in a long time bird feeder… such pleasure!

  4. Moni

    If you haven’t already, load the Merlin app for bird song ID. Free app through Cornell. And it’s fantastic.


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Geologists study the earth and the processes that shape it. Writers study the human heart and the processes that shape it. The GeologistWriter builds a bridge between the two. Come across it with me!

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