Kingbird Highway

LBJ’s


This picture was taken on August 18th. Three weeks later the nest is empty, the chicks gone. We first noticed the nest because the bush is right off our front porch, at the bottom of the stairs leading out into the yard. Alan saw a small seedeater fly into the bush and went to investigate.

Seedeaters are what Kenn Kaufman in his wonderful book, Kingbird Highway*, refers to as LBJ’s, or Little Black Jobs. Non-descript small black birds with a white tip on their wings, they spend a good amount of time in front of our house foraging for, yes, seeds.

The nest was hunkered down about thigh high in an ornamental shrub well camouflaged in the branches. We made daily visits to the bush waiting expectantly for the eggs to hatch. Finally, about two weeks ago, one of the chicks appeared. It was so young it looked like someone had peeled the shell off an embryo. It lay on the floor of the nest without moving; I thought it was dead. All the blood vessels were visible through its translucent skin. It appeared so fragile I couldn’t imagine it surviving. The other egg remained intact, but a day later we had two. They were both totally inanimate for a few days afterward.

As they grew, doubling in size every day it seemed, the two LBJ’s began to look like someone had chewed up some fruit leather and spat a wad in the bottom of the nest.

Then entered the eating stage. Mom and dad flew back and forth hauling untold amounts of seeds for these insatiable babes. If we approached the bush and barely touched the branches two enormous mouths flew open as though hardwired to the movement of the shrub. We couldn’t tell where they were anymore because they were black at the bottom of a very dark nest, but their beaks were bright yellow, providing a target for mom and dad.

We journeyed to the capital last week to send Alan north to visit family, and when I returned home the nest was empty. There are lots of seedeaters out and about this morning, but I can’t tell if any of them are new to the group.

* Kingbird Highway is one of my all time favorite books. At 16, Kenn Kaufmann dropped out of high school and went on a yearlong birding adventure hitch hiking across America from Alaska to Maine and back again.

Reading this book I learned a good deal about birders, who are very different from bird watchers, and loved his lyrical writing about nature and his adventures. It is a great book.

Kenn kaufmann has also written several other books for birders but this one is memoir about freedom, coming of age (in a most unconventional way), and a passion in life. He must have had extraordinary parents. Check it out twice, as Joe Bob used to say.