Friday, June 10, 2011

Wilbur... or Patience Rewarded

I bought Casa Kittling in 1981 and moved in. I'd been living in an apartment here in Phoenix since 1976, and I was constantly amazed at the amount of wildlife that showed up in my back garden-- probably because I have one of the few pools in the neighborhood. If you live in the desert and have a big water hole, all sorts of critters will beat a path to your door.

But you don't necessarily get a good look at all of your visitors.

One in particular became known to me as a master of the "seen in the corner of my eye" or the "dive into the oleanders" or even the "hiding behind the palo verde blossoms." I never saw enough for me to be able to identify the little bird.

A few years passed, and I was finally able to piece together enough sightings to know that this master of camouflage was a verdin-- a tiny songbird who's a permanent resident of the arid southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The adults have a gray body, yellow head, and chestnut-colored "shoulder patches." Now that I knew what was avoiding me, my task was clear: I had to take a photograph that would pass my own personal inspection.

When did I move here? 1981? Well... it took until the year 2011 for me to be able to take a photo of a verdin that I was happy with, and I'm convinced that the only reason why I was able to was because of Wilbur.

I know you're in there!
From the beginning, Wilbur showed so much more personality than the rest of his kin. He seemed to know that I like to sit here in the office and look out the window. (I've seen Mallards in the pool and a Cooper's Hawk at the birdbath by this sort of vigil.)

Wilbur thought nothing of coming to the window and trying to look in at me. When he was still a youngster and hadn't grown his adult plumage, he'd come and perch on the window, crane his neck, try to peer inside, and chirp away ten to the dozen. Most people would take a look at the photos and think he was talking to his reflection in the window, but he wasn't.

It's hot out here!
We have evaporative cooling which allows us to have the windows open. This keeps the house nice and cool before the hottest part of the summer hits and we're forced to close up and turn on the air conditioning.

Little Wilbur had figured out that if he clung to the window screen, he'd get the benefit of the cool air moving in and out. Young birds in particular suffer in the heat of the desert summer. Wilbur was smart enough to keep himself cool. Of course, he'd also hold a "conversation" with Denis and me while he clung to the screen.

Although I've been witness to verdin parents showing their offspring the best places to eat in our back garden for about five years, I still hadn't taken a photo that I really liked.

Baby food
I could sit outside in the shade and watch Wilbur and his wife stop by the oranges to load up on baby food. I could sit in that same spot with camera in hand while Wilbur clung to the back side of the fountain four feet away and waggled his tail feathers at me-- because he knew that's all I'd get in the shot. I'd almost swear that little bird has had almost as much fun with me as I've had with him.

Denis had to trim the palo verde trees this week because they were hanging over the pool and chucking too much filter-clogging debris into the water. Palo verdes are a rich source of Wilbur's main food staple: insects. I got to sit in here and listen to Wilbur cuss Denis out to a fare-thee-well, and for some reason, Denis looks out the windows before he goes outside. I've never seen Wilbur dive-bomb anyone, but there's always a first time, and he does have a needle-sharp beak.

Daddy Wilbur
Today I got to watch Wilbur feed one of his kids at the oranges. It was Day #3 of showing Junior all the best neighborhood restaurants, and Daddy's patience is wearing thin. Tomorrow I wouldn't be at all surprised if Wilbur tells Junior he's on his own.

Pardon the horrible quality of the photo to the right. It serves as a reminder for me to wash that window quickly because I've seen so many marvelous things through it. Many were the years that these wary little birds would never ever let me see anything like them feeding their young. Now they'll do it while I'm sitting in plain sight.

I tend to think that it's all because of Wilbur and his street smart curiosity. Deep down, he doesn't trust me a bit, but he's observant and likes to have some fun with the resident human.  If he knew I had this photo, he'd have a fit. I can just hear him now....

The photo Wilbur doesn't know about....


  1. Lovely photo.

    It pays to be patient.

  2. I love the story of Wilbur! I have such trouble getting great bird shots, and I'm sure Wilbur is just a bit a tease when he sees that camera come out. Great capture . . . but perhaps you'd better not tell Wilbur you have it.

  3. Wow, you do have incredible patience! I love the photo and the story behind it.

  4. I am a lifelong birder so I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated your tale of photographing Wilber the Verdin. Thanks.

  5. What a cute and clever little bird. And a great story. We don't have Verdins here in the midwest so I've never had the pleasure of being avoided by one!

    I know all too well the frustration of being taunted by a bird though. This year I have a little Eastern Wood Pewee that sits and sings... pee-a-wee, pee-a-wee... and occasionally shows himself by sitting on the fence and then poof, he's gone. No, I don't have a good photo yet.

  6. That's lovely! Thanks for sharing both the story and the pictures--that bird looks like he has just tons of personality!

  7. Bibliophile-- Thanks! I know that I'm glad I learned the value of patience many years ago.

    Beth-- I'm not going to. As long as he doesn't know about it, he'll keep his guard down, and I'll get others!

    Kathy-- Thanks! It's rather amusing what I have patience for... and what I don't. I think it tends to be backwards from many other people!

    Chelsea-- You're very welcome. Those not enamored of our feathered friends probably think we're nuts. Who cares? :o)

    Dorte-- Perfect word for him, Dorte... rascal!

    Leslie-- I have a feeling that you'll succeed. You have feathered patience just like I do!

    Charlotte-- He does... even though I have no clue why I call him Wilbur!

  8. I've never seen a verdin although I'm a birder. Wilbur is very cute and I like his name; it seems to fit him. Dave used to have a catbird that stayed with him whenever he was outside, at our house in NJ. We loved that bird.

  9. Barbara-- Funny how you can get attached to wild creatures. There was a one-legged curved bill thrasher that always brought her young to our back garden. When she stopped showing up, I felt as though I'd lost a friend.

  10. Lovely bird photos I would love to have the opportunity to get some good bird photos, the birds here are never still long enough!

  11. LindyLou-- I'm familiar with the problem. I've been to the UK twice, and out of the hundreds of photos I've taken there, only three bird shots were "decent". Must be something in the water!


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