Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"In The Crows Of Passion" - Dickcissel Delight

     This delightful, and unusual bird showed up in my yard last week at my bird feeders. It is a Dickcissel, a name that unfortunately revs the purient thinking of the twelve year old boy latent in most grown men. No offense, anyone, but we did all go there, didn't we? Your answer is probably best kept between you and your god.
     The Dickcissel gets its name from its flight call, described by some as like a 'raspberry,' or Bronx cheer. You know - that sound you can make by putting your mouth to the inside of your elbow, sealing your lips to your skin and blowing. I've known people in my life who could put one hand under an armpit and squeeze air out making the buzzing sound that Dickcissels make. That was long before I knew about Dickcissels, but the talent always deeply impressed me. Within the next twenty-four hours, when you are in the privacy of your own homes, I'm betting that you will try that out, too. If you choose to do it in public, I can assure you that we women will be paying more attention to you now than when you were in Junior High School. And, you may attract some birds, as well. Dickcissels do have a song,  a simple, dry, "dick, dick, ciss, ciss, ciss" and a call that's a dry, single "chek." 
     Dickcissels are not common in Maine, though a fair number have been sighted this year, many of them along the coast. Their breeding habitat is fields in Midwestern North America. They migrate in large flocks to southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. They do occur as vagrants well outside of their normal range which is how they happen to be here. They forage on the ground mainly eating insects and seeds. Outside of the nesting season, they usually feed in flocks. They are considered a pest by farmers in some regions because flocks can consume large quantities of cultivated grains. In Venezuela where they winter, farmers poison them.
     They nest near the ground in dense grasses or small shrubs, or up to 3–4 ft high in bushes and trees. The one I photographed at our house was eating on spillage from feeders and did not fly higher up than ten feet into the shrubs.  Males may have up to six mates, with most attracting only one or two, and several failing to attract any mates at all. If only they had known about blowing a fart sound on the inside of their elbow, their averages might be better.  If these "bachelors" survive until the following summer, they will get another try to attract females, as the partners only stay together for raising one brood. Dickcissels are thus one of the few songbirds that are truly polygamous. When they leave for the winter what little pair bond existed during the summer is broken up. In preparation for fall migration, Dickcissels begin assembling in larger and larger flocks that gradually coalesce into flocks of thousands. Winter roosts can number into the millions of birds.
Nearly all Dickcissels winter far south of their breeding range. But, individual Dickcissels frequently turn up far from the normal range, often joining in with House Sparrow flocks. This fellow in my photos was, in fact with a mixed flock of sparrows, mostly Swamp and White-throated.
     I first noticed this bird, while still in bed. I can see a feeder from there and I have binoculars at my bedside. When I got up for a closer look, of course it was gone. I wasn't sure if what I had seen was the Dickcissel I surmised or not, as I had never seen one before (Though technically, I was wearing less than a bathrobe, I am still counting this as a Bathrobe Birding event). Later in the day, while working around my yard, I heard its unique farting sound. Ruling out my husband, I was able to  find the bird in the shrubs. I was over the moon ecstatic!
     The problem for me with seeing unusual birds or simply ones that are totally new to me is that I always want more. I can imagine what it must be like for a crack addict to be Jonesing for a fix. After seeing the Dickcissel, I kept hoping it would come back, looked for it over and over and listened to every sound in the woods and air. But it did not come back. Neuro chemically, I was awash in 'gotta-have-it" juices. Just when I thought it was over and I was calming down; I heard it: some unusual sound in the trees. I grabbed my camera and began sneaking around in the bushes, hoping against hope, my heart pounding, my hands trembling. But, alas, it was just a tricky crow mimicking something, perhaps indeed the Dickcissel. Crows can be very  clever with their mimicry  and more than once have sent me hunting in vane for a rarer bird than they. They have, indeed, flung me into "the crows of passion."

28 comments:

  1. Now, with the colder winter weather approaching you definitely need a thermal bathrobe and your camera right on the bedpost for your "frantic" run out the door to capture the moment and bird! Enjoyed your narrative and love the lighthouse photo!
    HG

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  2. Another great post, Robin. Of course I had check the sound on Sibley on my iPod and your description matches. I know I have never heard it before and therefore have not just missed seeing it if one was around.

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  3. So, Hilke, fess up: did you put your lips to the inside of your elbow and blow? It's okay, your secret will be safe with me. Thanks for the compliment on the photo.

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  4. Thank you, HG. I definitely need a new bathrobe, I can tell you that. Even the birds are disgusted to see me in it. Bet they'd be more disgusted to see me out of it, though. HA! Glad you like the Portland Head Light shot. It's a very overworked subject so it took a little nerve to put it on my banner. Nerve, that's what I'm all about.

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  5. Wonderful post on the dickcissel. I saw my first one in the backyard and have only encountered it briefly one time since. Good description and commentary on the bird ... and good photos.

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  6. I've not heard this word before, in any context. But the pics are lovely, of course. And your tribute to the dear little bird is informative and, of course, humorous, a combination I've come to expect and anticipate from you! So I thank you for this. If I hear a farting sound while tooling around the neighborhood in my power chair, I'll look, not for a rude neighbor, but for a dear little bird! ;0)
    Yarn Over
    November

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  7. Thanks, Chris and Yarnover. I'm thinking I've got to do a series of images as a collection that are only birds I've shot in my bathrobe. Quite extensive at this point! And, apologies to my son; none of what I know of twelve year olds EVER came from him. ;-)

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  8. Ahh, delightful post, Robin. Interestingly enough, the one and only time I've ever seen a dickcissal was in the fall in central Maine! I couldn't take enough pictures, although none of them came out as nicely as yours. My sighting was at a little bit of a distance. Great info about this lovely little bird. ~karen

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  9. Interesting post, Robin, and great pics! I don't think we have this fellow up north either,
    its a pretty bird!!

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  10. Thanks, Kaholly and Bonifer. I'm glad you're reading and looking and liking.

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  11. Wonderful photos and post on the Dickcissel Robin! And great capture of the Yellow-billed Loon too. Incredible to have one of these in Maine waters. I saw several in Alaska many years ago, but never captured any photos of them.

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  12. Another masterpiece! Bravo!
    Always enjoyable to read.

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  13. Thanks Andy! Geez, I feel so Shakespearian!

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  14. darling blog!!!! how brilliant you are woman!!

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  15. Hi, just getting back on line. love the blog, it is one of your best. stand TALL!!

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  16. Stunning shots Robin!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

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  17. Great post Robin. Full of fun and passion.
    My favorite birthday party of all time was my fifth. It featured a fart contest whose volume rivaled a mid-west thunderstorm or maybe, as you relate, a flock of a million dickcissel's. As we said in the vernacular of the time, "It was a gas!"
    My poor mother.

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  18. Springman, that was hilarious! Thank you. And Gary thank you. It occurs to me to ask, "Is that where 'Boom" got his name?" I hope not! Thanks all of you.

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  19. Hi Robin, you made me laugh again. I didn't try the sound on my arm but played it on "BirdTunes" on my iPhone: NICE description! Thanks for visiting my blog. I did miserably on the numbers test too. Fortunately at this point in my life it no longer matters, and actually I loved math in college, but we worked with symbols, not numbers.

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  20. Beautiful images and a great read.

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  21. Thanks Andrew and Hilke. I'm delighted to make you laugh, Hilke.

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  22. Very interesting post and a lovely little bird.

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  23. I love the idea of a farting bird. This has to be my new favourite lol

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  24. Great post and lucky you to have this nice bird visit your yard. I would love to see a Dickcissel anywhere.

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  25. Mick, Holding and Eileen, thanks to you all. Ironic to call a bird a "lovely little bird" and a "farting bird" in the same 'breath.' Oh, and a 'nice' bird. Not what my mother would have said! Ha ahahah! I'm pleased you all enjoyed it.

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  26. Hi there - I think its a good job you call a lot of birds names they don’t use elsewhere in the world. No idea what I'm talking about? Well think what it would be like with Dickcissels and Tits in your garden - three cheers for Chickadees!

    Stewart M - Australia

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  27. Delightful post and great shots of a lovely little bird!

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  28. Robin, I have longed to see a Dickcissel. Thanks for the super photos,info, and very entertaining read.:)

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