My birding experiences from preschool to retirement
Like many people I have enjoyed a strong interest in birds since early childhood. My mother always threw bread crumbs on the snow to help the birds during their hardtimes. In my early years I had no books or picture cards, but my dad had grown up on a farm in a loop of Blue River and he knew a common name for most birds.
The first birding experience I can remember consisted of robbing a wren's nest. My mother or father had placed a birdhouse in a dead peach tree in front of our outdoor privy (a pit toliet). It was in Milltown and moved from there when I was in the first grade. There this nest robbing occurred when I was age 3 to 5. Since I had to climb the tree it must have been age 4 or 5. The birdhouse was the most common type made in those days. It was made from a Karo Syrup bucket.
Karo buckets were made exactly like modern metal paint buckets and were about 1/2 gallon in size. Kids commonly used them as lunch pails for school. As lunch pails the metal lid was pressed in place, the lunch sweated, and the sandwiches were a little soggy at lunch time. A couple sandwiches, maybe a jar of fruit or milk was lunch. If there was an afterschool fight, the bucket made a modest defensive weapon. It was frowned upon, but on the way hope the buckets could serve for collecting rocks and other interesting things. But was after I entered school.
Meanwhile back at the privy, dad had converted a Karo bucket to a bird house by making 3 cuts in the lid so that when the cut metal was bent down to make a landing platform the birds had an entrance hole 2 inches wide and 2.5 inches tall (approximately). I am sure I was told to let the birds alone. I recall it was a "house wren" nest and I did not lose any time disturbing the nest because when I broke one of the eggs there was the egg white and yellow. I do not know wether I ruined the whole nest, but I don't recall any baby wrens emerging and I surely would have recalled that.
My parents called these birds house wrens, but the only wrens we see now are Carolina wrens. Has the Carolina wren replaced the house wren? Some old timers have told me the house wrens are gone and now we have only "woods" (Carolina) wrens.
I also recall the English Sparrows building nests in the eave boxes of the house in Milltown. I was impressed by the long stalks of dead grass they carried up from the yard. The stalks trailed behind them as they fly upward with the somewhat heavy loads.
We moved to the farm at Pilot Knob on the last day of my first grade in Milltown school. That site was in an open cornfield and bird life was somewhat limited except for the English sparrows in the neighbors barn across state highway 66. There weren't even any pigeons in that barn and we lived in a little shack that summer as we dug a basement and built a nice two-story home for $800. That was money my mother had saved as a teenager and in her early twenties working as a "hired girl" when a neighboring families needed extra help during illness, canning, or spring housecleaning. She may have earned some of it doing sewing and laundary for the neighbors.
Soon after we moved into the shack, a spectacular bird showed up under the west window while we were eating breakfast one morning. It was a lifetime first bird for me and it make such a loud call it scared all four kids and we wondered what animal could make such a loud call for we had not seen it. "Bobwhite", dad said, and we enjoyed its calls. We got to see bobwhite as he walked away from the shack across the plowed ground that came within 10 feet of the shack and would soon be planted in corn by our neighbor. We had no horses or farm equipment and Ira Haycock tended our corn that summer for half the corn. The total yield on that 10 acres field was 150 bushels that summer. Our new farm had poor soil!
I don't remember any other birds the first couple years. We had to stay around the house. Late that year we bought the land across the highway and got 20 acres and the barn. That neighbor was a sometimes preacher and he was not inclined to work a farm. We were not allowed to wander in the fields and woods.
The summer after the 2nd or 3rd grade one of my great unsolved mysteries occured. By time I was looking everywhere for birds nests. In the old barn in a rotted top member of the frame at the roof I found a huge egg about an inch long. It was bluegreenish with brownish blue markings. The only bird expected would be English sparrow inside a hollow timber as starlings would not appear for a few more years. English sparrows were the only birds ever seen in the barn.
We attended a one room school on the south slope of Pilot Knob hill 1000 feet north of our house. Grown-up abandoned fields lay to the east of the school and on the south slope of the hill. Those were our playgrounds and we say some birds there and once found a quails nest on the day the eggs were hatching. Some kids got to see the baby birds but the rest of use only saw the white empty shells. With no bird books we had little to encourage our interest in birds. That changed a bit when I was age 8 because my mother bought a book which had pictures of 12 birds. But those pictures of Bald eagle, rose breasted grosbeak, northern shrike, English sparrow, robin, etc. did not help much as I already knew the native species and the others never came to our farm.
I never owned binoculars until I was in the army and I did not buy Peterson's Eastern birds until I was in college. However, Arm and Hammer baking soda offered two sets of bird cards and I lived with those beginning about grade 6. I have not seen a horned lark for years, but we used to see them regularly in the spring planted fields. A neighbor put stryknine on his water melon seeds and it kill some horned larks. We assume it was them that got most of our melon seeds.
woodpeckers. Downy and hairy only.
fox sparrow, Juncos,
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