Me and the Tufted Titmouse

Devoted Birders! An unbelievable thing happened yesterday: I held a bird in my hand for the first time ever. It was a sweet, diminutive, remarkably complacent Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), yet I was terrified. Rick, the generous banding expert at Ruthven Nature Park, insisted I hold the Titmouse (after I adamantly refused to handle the stunning Golden Crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) for fear that the miniscule creature would attack and eat me). Rick keeps a fabulous blog with ample photographic evidence of spring and fall migrants in the Cayuga area in Southwestern Ontario (basically between Hamilton and Lake Erie).

Here we are. Photo taken by the good people at Ruthven Nature Blog. If I look slightly dazed and moderately shell-shocked, it’s because I was. In the end, the Titmouse and I got along just fine. In fact, the banded Titmouse intimated that he’d like to be held again any time that I was willing!

It turned out to be a glorious day bathed in fall colors. The birds fluttered around, weaving their way in and out of trees, and I was once again reminded of the challenge of autumn birding. I frequently mistook falling leaves for birds — they frequently float through the air just like birds. The greenish-greyish-golden-reddish-rusty color scheme of the leaves also tends to camouflage the trilling avian creatures. Basically, the only birds I could safely ID were Turkey Vultures flying overhead in large numbers.

At the banding station, I saw a Red-Bellied Woodpecker up close and found myself simultaneously mesmerized and terrified by his immensely sharp bill and long, slithery, lizard-like tongue that kept poking out while the bird shrieked with frustration. It’s a different sensation to see a bird in someone’s hand (or to hold a bird in your own hand) — a sense of precariousness, of fragility, of utter dependence, so unlike a bird’s usual soaring, fearless demeanor. I’m not sure how I feel about it all, and haven’t yet figured out the words for it, but I can tell you that holding the titmouse in my hand had a dimension of magic to it. A life enclosed, encapsulated, for the briefest of moments. OK folks, it’s official: I want to volunteer in a banding station.

With that, I’ll close and wish you all a wonderful thanksgiving. I’ll be busy tomorrow making purple potatoes (!), butternut squash soup, green beans, and apple crisp (thanks to my amazing CSA for the fresh, local and spectacular produce!).

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