Although you wouldn’t know it with our weather recently, spring is here and it marks the return of many of our feathered friends – purple finches, goldfinches, house and chipping sparrows, cardinals–to our feeders. We have also had some new visitors which I recently identified as common grackles. I had mistakenly assumed they were crows of some kind, but I noticed over the weekend that only their heads are black; their bodies are a mixture of brown and iridescent colors, the reverse of what cowbirds look like. Their mannerisms didn’t match any crows I’d ever seen so a quick bit of research revealed that they’re grackles and are in no way related to crows. Instead they are related to blackbirds, as they are ictarids, not corvids. They are omnivores and have been known to eat small birds at times, which probably doesn’t bode well for every other bird at my feeders. They are extremely social, which explains why I’ve counted as many as ten or eleven at a time – I swear it’s like a Hitchcock film when they show up. They seem to love the cracked corn we put out, and they are among the most cautious birds at the feeder. I think we have mostly females in our flock, as the males are blacker and larger than some of the ones that I’ve seen, and while they don’t mate for life, they tend to be monogamous when they do mate. The only other “newbie” we’ve had stop by has been the male red winged blackbird that appeared last Saturday (the 14th). They’re ubiquitous in Hadley and Amherst, especially in swampy areas but I’ve never seen one in Sunderland, so that was an exciting thing to see. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed cedar waxwings that were feasting on some berry laden trees at our apartment. They are so dramatic with their yellow bellies and the dark black stripe across their eyes – they also have a crest that almost looks like one of those 90’s flattops, so for some reason I think of Vanilla Ice when I see them. One of my earliest childhood memories has to be from when I was 7 or 8 and we had a hedgerow between our driveway and the next-door neighbor’s house — cedar waxwings LOVED those hedges (not sure what they were but they had to be something with berries) and my father hated it when they pooped all over the driveway. According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab, they are one of a very few North American birds that subsist almost solely on fruit and berries, and it’s speculated that this is an evolutionary trait that protects the waxwings from being driven extinct by cowbirds – cowbird fledglings need insects, so feeding their young berries might actually kill off any cowbirds that they have been tricked into caring for– nature ain’t pretty folks, but it is efficient in how it protects itself from destruction. The only other bird I saw this past week that was new to me was a bluebird near Bill’s office – can you believe I’ve never seen a bluebird in real life before now? I’ve seen photos my mother has taken of her bluebirds, but that was it until last Saturday (the 14th). We were walking on campus and had just crossed the field behind the stadium on the way back to the car when a bright flash of blue crossed my line of sight. When I looked up, I saw a bluebird! The most exciting part of this hobby is seeing a bird for the first time, and I was ecstatic. It’s so easy to ignore the beauty that is over your head, but the greatest gift bird watching has given me is the reminder to look up every once in a while. When you do, you’ll be rewarded with nature’s miracles.