Pine siskins fill the air with happy twittering

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By Sylvia Brockner

Editor’s note: This week we’re reprinting Sylvia’s column from May 4, 1972.

People frequently ask me how I became so interested in the outdoors. I was fortunate in having an amazing mother who encouraged all of us to follow our interests. She and I had an especially close rapport, since she had been a biology teacher.

However, more than any other single person, I think Thornton W. Burgess was responsible for my interests. His “Bedtime Stories” were read to me at an early age, and later I read the adventures of Sammy Jay, Peter Rabbit, Paddy Beaver, Sweet Voice the Vesper Sparrow and all the others. They became friends whom I looked for, talked to and played with as I roamed the field and forest.

Burgess’ books are criticized by many scientists today for making the animals talk and think like people. Such anthropomorphism is frowned upon, but nevertheless his books sparked the interest in many budding naturalists and future scientists, including Bill and myself, and such greats as Roger Tory Peterson.

So with fond memories of the Sammy Jays of my childhood and with real affection for the Steller’s jays who noisily spread the word about anything that stirs in their domain, I dedicate this column. It will be about the birds, beasts and flowers that make our Evergreen world a more interesting place to live. People will be mentioned only in so far as they contribute to the news about our wildlife.

Pine siskins returned to our valley on April 17, and the air is filled with their happy twittering and loud slurred “ssscreeeee” notes. These tiny little mites look like miniature sparrows with yellow at the base of the tail and in the wings. There is large flock of them, yet only two birds have come to my feeder.

We often wonder why birds do the things they do. Are these two braver than the others? Are they perhaps outcasts not allowed to feed with the flock? Are they just lazy, doing things the easy way? Have they cultivated a taste for sunflower seeds? These are all questions I can’t answer, but that is one of the reasons I continue to study and band birds.

I have just received word that the broad-tailed hummingbirds have returned. One “zinged” past Catherine Dittman as she worked in the yard in Indian Hills on Tuesday, April 25. She rushed out a feeder but did not see one again until after the snowstorm, when one returned to her feeder on Friday, April 28, and again on Saturday, April 29.

We’ll do a column on hummingbirds later.