For the Birds Radio Program: Yard List, Part II

Original Air Date: June 11, 2003 Rerun Dates: June 9, 2004

Laura reminisces about how she added several hawks and owls to her yard list.

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Yesterday I talked about some of the birds I’ve seen in my own backyard. Sometimes I’ve gone to great lengths to add a new yard bird. I saw my first Golden Eagle on October 16, 1982. I was up on Hawk Ridge when it flew overhead. I savored the view and suddenly realized I could probably see it from my own backyard if I rushed home, since my neighborhood is just below the ridge. So I raced to my car, drove off, and searched the western sky until I glimpsed it at a great distance. Later that same afternoon, I was planting tulip bulbs when I looked up to see two more right overhead.

Being right under Hawk Ridge, I’ve seen just about every possible hawk and falcon from my yard. Most I managed to see my first year on Peabody Street, but some were certainly easier than others—my first Bald Eagle flew right over my head as I was carrying in a big box the day we moved into the house. I had every hawk species one would normally see in northern Minnesota by my second autumn, except Peregrine Falcon—it took me three more years to see one of them over my house.

My yard list is pretty rich in owls. I had one of my first Saw-whet Owls the year we got our springer spaniel puppy Betsy. I let her out one October night at midnight, and instantly a little Saw-whet Owl flew in, apparently spotting the tiny spot of white on Betsy’s dark brown back. But when it’s sharp little talons were just millimeters from Betsy’s back, suddenly the little owl realized this was no mouse—it was a whole big puppy—and it managed to put the brakes on, change direction, and land in the spruce tree next to the house. The best thing was that it stayed in the spruce for many minutes, giving me lovely long looks. I was surprised at how animated it was as it looked this way and that over the lawn and directly into my eyes.

Another autumn I heard a lot of crows and jays in the back, and found a Long-eared Owl hiding out in another spruce tree. I spotted a Great Horned Owl from the yard in October, 1982, but had an even cooler sighting a few years later when one perched atop my biggest spruce on New Year’s Day, the number one bird on my 1985 list. And a Great Gray Owl flew through the backyard and landed on the same spruce tree on January 16, 1997—perhaps my most treasured yard bird.

The trickiest owl to see from my yard was the Barred Owl Erin McNeill, a little girl down the block, discovered on the roof two doors down. For me to see it there, I had to climb on the cyclone fence in the backyard and, hanging onto the aspen tree, lean at an odd angle to get a good angle.

None of the hawks or owls I’ve seen in my yard stuck around for other birders to come and see. But some other birds have stayed around for days or weeks, and so quite a few people have gotten lifers in my yard. Tomorrow I’ll tell you some of those stories.