Common, but Still Precious
There is a general belief that the more commonplace something is, the less we value it. However, this does not necessarily apply in many situations, such as with the birds in our gardens.
I was reminded of this when I found a list of the top 25 feeder birds in my region of the USA, compiled by Project FeederWatch. The list applies to winter only. Birds were ranked by the percentage of feeders they visited, the size of the group they travelled with, and their general abundance – meaning how many visited feeders and how often they did so.
At first, I was disappointed to learn that the Northern Cardinal is our area’s most common bird in terms the percentage of feeders they visit. They are the second most common in terms of abundance. For a moment, I felt as if this somehow devalued the pleasure I got from watching these birds.
Many Cardinals can be seen throughout the day in our garden, but after a moment’s thought I realized that does not make them less special. That brilliant red, those pointy crests, the dignified demeanor, are always deeply satisfying to observe. When they appear in greater numbers it only adds to the excitement.
The single most common bird in terms of abundance in our region is the English or House Sparrow. They visit a slightly smaller percentage of bird feeders than the Cardinals, though. I was surprised to learn that English Sparrows are becoming rare in the UK and some other places. Speaking for myself, I would gladly pack up all our English Sparrows and ship them off to some place where they are in short supply.
English Sparrows are tiresome, but not because they are numerous. The real problem is that they are so dull to look at. If they were red like the Cardinals – or green, purple, or blue – would I like them better? Absolutely. This may be shallow on my part, but I’m the one buying the sunflower seed. When it comes to birds, bright colors count for a lot.
Combine their dullness with their voracious appetites, and English Sparrows are pretty much like a house guest who eats everything in the refrigerator while droning on about all the problems they’ve been having with their feet. Actually, that sounds a lot like my Uncle Donald.
I was gratified to see that at least 21 of the top 25 feeder birds have made appearances in my garden, the exceptions being the Tufted Titmouse and the Carolina Wren. Also, I’m not sure if the American Tree Sparrow or Song Sparrow have been around, as I can’t tell them from the generic LBJ (little brown jobbie).
Plus, we’ve had a few birds not on the top 25 list, such as the Northern Flicker and last year’s celebrity, the Varied Thrush. Truly rare birds inspire a special excitement, but something does not need to be rare to give pleasure.
Before concluding, I have to make an aside regarding the American Robin. Also one of the top 25, but the list revealed that taxonomists have burdened this cheerful bird with the awful scientific name of: Turdus migratorius. Talk about cruelty to animals! Really, couldn’t they have come up with something better than that?
What about you – does a bird have to be rare to make you happy?