COLUMN: Beautiful birds

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

     Just like our beautiful spring wildflowers. Iowa’s migrating birds are returning in force! The flashes of color and energetic songs tell us that spring is here to stay! Just this past week, rose-breasted grosbeaks, northern orioles, indigo buntings, sora rail, green heron, and a rainbow of migrating warblers have been observed flashing from tree to tree and visiting area bird feeders.

     Returning from Central and South America the rose-breasted grosbeaks are a sight to behold! The handsome males with their black and white tuxedo colored plumage, bright red tornado-like chest patch, and thick cream colored triangular beak proudly grace our birdfeeders as they enjoy a snack. Females, like many bird species, are camouflaged to blend into their wooded habitat – the same stocky size and shape as the males but with brown and creamy white colored feathers, three white racing stripes extending back from their beak to the nape of their neck, and streaks of brown on their chest in place of the spectacular red tornado adorning the males. Feed the birds all year round and provide fruit bearing trees and shrubs and you might be in for a treat as these beautiful birds set up territories and seek a nesting location in your backyard. They prefer young growth forest or edge habitat for nesting and can frequently be seen in wooded and urban areas.

     Many area residents can’t wait for the black and orange northern orioles to return each spring around the first week of May. In addition to fruit trees and shrubs these beautiful birds are attracted to orange halves, grape jelly, or oriole feeders providing tasty sugar water. They like to nest in tree branches near ponds, streams, rivers, or wetlands and build sock like hanging nests made of slender plant fibers, grass, animal hair, and even twine or other bits of artificial fibers they can scrounge.

     Another amazingly beautiful bird is the bright blue male indigo bunting. Roughly the same size and shape as our state bird the bright yellow and black American goldfinch. The color we see or interpret for the male indigo bunting can change from turquoise blue to black depending on the diffraction of light through his black colored feathers and how the light is hitting them. Female indigo buntings are a plain brown color with a lighter colored chest and tummy – perfectly camouflaged to stay hidden on a nest.

     A neat visitor to our feeder this past week was a single sora rail – a wetland bird not opposed to occasionally visiting bird feeders. Adults are a small plump gray-brown bird with rather long legs and toes, a distinctive yellow bill, horizontal stripping on their stomach, reddish colored eyes, and a short cocked tail revealing white or cream colored feathers underneath. Adults have a black throat patch running from their beak to their lower chest. We were delighted to watch our visitor waddle under our feeders picking up millet seeds.

     I hope you have as much fun watching birds in your neighborhood as I do. Birds are amazing creatures with stories to tell and much to teach us. If you would like to learn more about the birds you see visit  and attend programs in your area on local birds.

     The next birding program at the Central Park Nature Center is Saturday, June 23 at 1 p.m. Come learn more about our “Backyard Birds of Summer.” 



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