For The Birds

Holy Rare Bird Alert, Batman! Parakeets, Pelicans and Poultry

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By Brian Kluepfel

There’s a stir in the local birding community whenever a rare or off-course avian is sighted.

When a white pelican shows up in Pelham Bay, for instance, e-Bird blows up, Rare Bird Alerts are sent out and birders drop everything to get a gander at the exotic visitor.

I don’t agree with this, necessarily, because it’s a bit of a waste of gas, and we should be at the forefront of preserving the environment. I am likely in the minority on this opinion.

But I nearly had to issue a Rare Bird Alert myself last week when I woke up on a soggy Saturday and spied a bright yellow bird on my porch. It was too big for a goldfinch, too yellow to be a female scarlet tanager.

Then I got a good look: it was a yellow parakeet, likely escaped from a nearby apartment or condo. He was hanging out with some sparrows and cardinals and in general good health, it seemed. A bird like this won’t make it through the winter without a miracle, and I did not add it to my list for the day.

A somewhat less rare sighting took place later that day when a ruby-throated hummingbird visited the flowers on our porch. Rubies are migrants and only pass our way en route to their mating grounds or back home to the southern U.S., Mexico or Central America (A 2,000-mile one-way trip!), but it sure is a treat to see them, four-gram bundles of energy zipping from flower to flower. As I am writing this column, another appeared on the porch, as if to remind me that he is the star of the column.

Another interesting sighting took place between downpours this soaked-in Sunday. Walking around the meditation center next door, I came upon a group of wild turkeys. There is an array of names for a grouping of turkeys: a flock, a muster, a rafter. I like the latter, so I can report that earlier this week the rafter numbered just six birds, but today I saw 11 – toms, hens and poults all scouring the ground for seed. A strange but wonderful bird.

A trip to the local composting site brought unwelcome odors to our car trunk, but new opportunities to spot birds. (Other species tend to enjoy compost and garbage more than homo sapiens.) We saw an eastern phoebe braving the drizzle, zipping to and fro near the pond’s edge; a northern flicker (yellowhammer) perched high in a treetop; and as if to remind us who’s the star of the show this week, another pair of hummers was delighting in the blooms of the community garden. Based on their flowers of choice, I suppose that for hummingbirds, orange is the new orange.

It will practically be autumn by the time you read this, and a reminder that all you have to do is look up to appreciate the wonder of our multilevel winged migration. From flocks of honking geese to kettles of raptors soaring over Hook Mountain, the birds are out there for your viewing pleasure.

Get out with Saw Mill River Audubon and enjoy the show! See our ad below for upcoming events.

Brian Kluepfel is a writer for the Lonely Planet travel series, BirdWatching magazine and a number of other publications. You can find him online at and drinking beer and playing guitar locally at Lucy’s Garage in Pleasantville.

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