Small, dumpy bird boasts beautiful blue

Posted May 16, 2011, at 9:09 p.m.

I love the month of May for the many birds that return and for the ease of seeing them before the leaves are fully out. May is the best month of the year! Some recent returnees include a Northern parula (a species of warbler), a flock of chimney swifts and a rose-breasted grosbeak.

David Sibley’s “Guide to Birds” book says, “Northern parula is small, dumpy and short-necked with a pointed bill and a fairly short tail.” I call the parula “beautiful” because of the blue on the face, head, neck, tail and wings. The breast, throat and bottom part of the bill — lower mandible — are brilliant yellow. A rufous-colored band crosses the breast, which makes it even more beautiful.

“Parula” in Latin means “tiny titmouse.” But parulas are in the warbler family, not related to chickadees and titmice. I enjoy looking for parula nests, but I don’t usually find them — I’ve seen only three in my life. The nest looks like a tennis ball stuck in an “old man’s beard,” a long, gray-green lichen that hangs off branches of a spruce or fir tree.

Looking up in the sky, I saw six chimney swifts flying like cigars with wings. Swallows were traveling with the swifts but swallows fly low in the sky; swifts fly higher. Swifts also have a curve in the wing like a scimitar, not a bend in the wing like the swallows, making them easy to identify which are swifts and which are swallows.

At my apartment, a rose-breasted grosbeak was sitting and eating sunflower seeds. This one was gorgeous, with black on his head, back and wings and a triangle of rose red on his breast. His rump is white, and so is his belly. I think that the rose-breasted grosbeak is the only bird with a white beak. When the light is just right and I walk, s-l-o-w-l-y to the window, I can get to within eight inches of the bird. No binoculars needed.

From 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Saturday May 21, I’ll be leading a bird walk with Hope Brogunier in Walden Parke Preserve in Bangor. From Essex Street, turn onto Walden Parke Way, then go right on Tamarack Trail to the end. This walk is free.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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