Birds

A Belted Kingfisher

“From the porch at dusk I watched a kingfisher wild in flight he could only have made for joy…” —Wendell Barry (from his poem “Before Dark”)

The Blue-​Gray Gnatcatcher

by David Liebmann
One spring, I ventured south to Savannah, Georgia, for some sun and warmth. As a coastal locale and part of the Atlantic flyway, it was rich with avifauna heading back to nesting territories farther north in places like western Pennsylvania. It was March, and the streets of that wonderful city…

The Northern Cardinal

by David Liebmann
Winter puts birders in a different mood. There are birds about, but they are fewer and generally more muted — focused on finding food, staying warm and getting through. The birds that stick around for a Pittsburgh winter are hardier, more committed, the stalwarts. They are the loyalists of cold.

Swainson’s Thrush

by David Liebmann
Fall is a time of movement: college students packed in SUVs returning to classes, younger kids nervous to get back to school, the lazy days of summer fading fast. Millions of birds are moving, too, some passing through the Pittsburgh area en route to wintering grounds to the south.

American Redstart

by David Liebmann
Are we separate from nature or part of it? Superior to all creatures, the apex of creation, or simply one species among millions? Does self awareness make us unique? What about our sense of past, present and future?

The Eastern Bluebird

by David Liebmann
Sometimes winter brings surprises. Some are massive, like a burying storm; and some are almost unnoticed, like an unexpected bird on a branch. Now is the season to look for the Eastern Bluebird, whose flash of color can be as brilliant as a winter sky after a big snow or…

A Flash of Blue

by David Liebmann
A ratchety, staccato rattle announces the arrival of a Belted Kingfisher along one of Pittsburgh’s riverbanks, over a stream, or across a pond. I love the sound of the bird, so distinctive, as I scan for it in the sky. And I’m not alone. The great English poet Gerard Manley…

A little yellow friend

by David Liebmann
The potato chip bird. that’s how my students remember it. At first, they think it’s a canary. I show them pictures on the opening day of class, and they see yellow and call out “Big Bird?” “No,” then, “Canary?” “Wrong continent.” That’s before they’ve learned to use their eyes and…

Wintering in Pittsburgh

by David Liebmann
It may be funny to think of Pittsburgh in the same geographic thought as, say, Miami, but for dark-​eyed juncos, which spend many months to our north, we’re all sand and sunsets.

Red-​bellied woodpecker

by David Liebmann
A tree is a house. it’s not just an isolated organism, but also a host to forms of life from mammals to birds to insects to fungi. A tree is one element of a larger ecosystem and simultaneously a microcosm of it. And you can tell a lot about a…

The house finch

by David Liebmann
It’s no surprise that a city defined by former immigrant neighborhoods would be the gateway for yet another group of newcomers forced to gain a foothold in unfamiliar terrain. Such is the case with Carpodacus mexicanus — the house finch — which was often called the California linnet and the Hollywood finch before it…

The wood duck

by David Liebmann
Changing habitat has complex consequences for birds. Some species prefer deep, old growth forests. Others thrive around patchwork clearcuts. Some require grasslands to breed, while others reproduce in swampy bottomlands. Some of our notorious losses — the ivory-​billed woodpecker and Carolina parakeet — needed relatively narrow bands of Southern wetland so much that when…

Wintering in Pittsburgh

by David Liebmann
With winter’s chill approaching, most birds long ago migrated south. Migration actually begins in August and continues through the milder months of September and October. Birds wing their way to more abundant food sources, with some of Pittsburgh’s species heading deep into South America to tropical climes. A few hearty…

Yellow-​billed cuckoo

by David Liebmann
Pittsburgh is a city of neighborhoods, and the patchwork-​quilt variety of them gives everyone a place to call home and a sense of identity to go with it. We say Shadyside, Bloomfield or the South Side, Fox Chapel, the Strip or Swissvale, and certain images, people and lifestyles come to…

The Brown Creeper

I was listening recently to an NPR interview about an elephant researcher in Africa. It was a story about the challenge of tracking a huge and relatively abundant mammal that has the tendency to disappear into the bush in the blink of an eye. While it’s hard to imagine, it’s…
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