Spring Haikus

Reminiscing on some Haikus from the past. These seemed a good way to honor spring and welcome summer.

Quivering seed pods
Last year’s fruit, This year’s promise
Red buds produce life.

April ‘to Open’
Birds beckon, flowers unfold
Hope, re-birth, re-new.

Dampness Awakens.
Slow green shoots appear and grow.
Spring bursts in splendor.

How goes butterfly
So gaily in morning dew.
Quiet. Elusive.

Surf booms, with great roar.
Coquinas ride waves to rest
On white, clean beaches.

Pelicans I
Spring aerial art.
Wheeling, gliding all in sync
Pelicans migrate.

Pelicans II
Spring aerial art
Banks, wheel. Dive. Glide in sync
Pelicans migrate.

Mountain tall, distant
Shelters small creatures that live
In harmony there.

Laughter tumbles free,
From souls to the earth.
Children, living gifts.

Begin where we are
Understanding nuances
Plain talk ease nerves.

Best Birding in the Yard

At Winding Pathways, we venture into our yard nearly every day, even if it’s raining, windy,

House Finch

Some birds homestead at Winding Pathways.

or frigid out. Of all the times, early May is our favorite to linger outdoors. Why? It’s the best birding.

Very late April and the first couple of weeks of May boast normally glorious weather, blooming flowers and birds. Lots of birds, including those we can only enjoy for a fleeting week or two.

Here’s how we group the birds that we enjoy in our yard. Odds are the same or similar species follow this pattern in backyards with good habitat across much of the continent.


Some birds don’t migrate. They brave the cold and grace winter feeders. In summer, they often raise broods of babies on the edge of the yard. These include titmice, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, house sparrows, and many woodpeckers.


Juncos are almost always under our feeders all winter gleaning seeds. To a Junco Iowa is the balmy south with a “warm” winter. Around mid-April they head north to nest in the boreal forests of Canada and Minnesota.  We won’t see them again until around Halloween.


Many people consider the first sighting of a Robin to be a sign of spring. They assume the birds just arrived from the south. Robins, and closely related bluebirds, aren’t ambitious migrants. As the weather cools each fall, they abandon suburbia and move to nearby brushy areas for the winter. Winter Robins are common in orchards, the edges of farm fields, and wherever they can find dry and frozen fruit. These much-admired birds do a dietary switcheroo each year. Robins are famed worm eaters, and during warm months, they mostly eat insects and other invertebrates. In winter, they’re mostly vegetarians and dine on frozen berries. In years when fruit is scarce they’ll move south until they find suitable foraging.


Many birds are true migrants that winter far to the south but return north to raise a family. Among these true migrants are house wrens, rose breasted grosbeaks, orioles and indigo buntings. The homesteaders that nest at Winding Pathways have reached their northernmost destination but many of the same species simply rest and eat for a day or two before flying further north to nest. They are mere passersby.


Many birds are serious migrants that winter in South or Central America or the southern US and wing north to Canada and even Alaska to nest, only stopping to rest and eat for a day or two on their long journey. Many are warblers, although dozens of other bird species only use Winding Pathways as their “quick stop” on the way north. We can only enjoy the procession for a week or two in early May as the migrants stock up and then catch the next southerly winds to propel them to their nesting areas.


What’s remarkable about early May is the sheer diversity of birds that visit yards. It’s the best time to bring a cup of coffee and pair of binoculars outside.  Sit quietly and look and listen to discover the amazing array of birds not possible observe in other seasons.  A good bird book helps with identification but we often use the resources of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology to help us identify and learn about birds. Their website at includes outstanding information that helps us determine species by both sight and sound and we frequently use their MERLIN phone app when we’re hiking or camping.


House Cats Rough On Wildlife*

A recent article in LIVING BIRD Magazine reported that cats kill more than 2.4 billion birds each year in the United States. Their numbers came from the book, CAT WARS, by Peter Marra and Chris Santella. 

use cats are fascinating animals that are loved by 600 million people worldwide who keep one or more as pets. They’ve been part of the human experience since at least the dawn of agriculture. Descended from a species that remains wild in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other Middle Eastern countries, cats were informally domesticated as early as 10,000 years ago. Probably the earliest semi tame cats were wild individuals who lived near cultivated fields and hunted mice and other pests. At some point people began taking them into their homes as pets.

House cats followed humans as they spread around the globe and today are common wherever people live. Unlike many domestic animals that long ago lost their ability to survive in the wild, cats often go wild. These “feral” animals have a high reproductive rate and can create a large wild population in a relatively short time. Often these colonies of feral cats prey on animals that have no defense against them.

Cats never lost their ability to hunt and continue to catch animals, especially mice and other small mammals. Unfortunately they are also effective bird predators. Cats kill more birds than collisions with buildings, power lines, and wind turbines combined.  They pose a serious threat to some bird populations.

There is a simple way that cat lovers can enjoy their pet while reducing the impact of these fascinating animals on birds…….keep them indoors.

For more information:

Cat Wars:  The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer.   Princeton University Press.

The Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology.

*Note:  Winding Pathways is not paid by companies we feature.  

No Rest for Wrens!

Stick nest

The wrens use just their beak and claws to layer sticks and then feathers from other birds to make a cozy safe nest to raise young.

Just ten days ago the wren parents fledged the babies from the box on our deck.  After we knew they were safely gone, Rich unbolted and cleaned out the next.  What an amazing feat of engineering!  With just a beak and claws, the wrens fashioned a comfy, warm home to sit on eggs and raise young. All was quiet for the rest of the week. The birds had all dispersed.

The past few days we have noticed activity in the High Bush Cranberry, on the deck, around the pond and at the feeders.  Today, definite mating activity as up to five wrens competed for attention, displayed mating moves and two began rebuilding the box on the deck. In and out flew the wren gathering small sticks by the pond and placing them in the box. So, it looks like a pair plans to start one more brood.

Later in the year, the Carolina Wren will grace our yard.  Larger and more distinctive, it seems to fare well in Iowa even in cold weather.

Keeping A Bird List

A joy of inviting beautiful wildlife to a yard is the periodic chance to see something new. That happened recently at Winding Pathways. We were astonished to spot a Black Poll warbler in our oaks. It was the first of this species we’d ever seen anywhere. Another amazing sight happened on a clear March morning when sounds from above brought us outside. We were thrilled to watch a huge flight of snow geese winging north way over our house.


We’re not overly serious birders, but keep a running tally of species spotted each year. Lists are fun, especially for people with a competitive bent. We identify birds by either sight or sound, and use these clues in our count of yard visitors. We also include some species that fly over but don’t land. Winding Pathways is two acres. And, we’re fortunate. Just past our property line is 110 acre Faulke’s Heritage Woods.  Its large oaks and elms attract forest birds that might not normally visit our yard.

Here’s our running tally this year as of mid-May:

Wild Turkey

Seven woodpecker species (Hairy, downy, red bellied, red headed, sapsucker, pileated, and flicker)

House Finch

English Sparrow


European Starling

Native sparrows (white crowned, white throated, song, fox, chipping)

Indigo bunting

Warblers (black polled, yellow rump, yellow, palm, and redstart)

Oriole, orchard and northern (Baltimore)


Tufted Titmouse

Black Capped Chickadee


Wren (house and Carolina)

Goose (snow and Canada flying over)

Ducks (mallard and wood)

Owl (barred and great horned)

Hawk (Coopers, sharp shinned, red tailed)

Turkey vulture

Chimney Swift


Brown Creeper







Mourning Dove

Bald eagles

As we continue to add a diversity of shrubs, trees, grasses, and wildflowers we’re creating habitats that should lure new species to our yard. We’ll keep adding species as the year goes on.

We use several references to help identify birds. Here are our favorites:

Printed books.  Real bird books:

The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America.  This 2008 book is fairly large and heavy, we keep it in the house to aid in identification.

The Golden Guide to Field Identification.  Birds of North America.  This classic bird book has been around for years. It’s small and easy to carry and is the book that stays in the car and gets carried when we’re walking a trail seeking birds.

The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. This details the life history of birds. It’s a heavy large reference book that provides information on a bird once we’ve used other sources to make an identification.  A companion Sibley book helps with identification.

Electronic Identification Aids

Outstanding information sources come from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, both on their website and on their smart phone app called Merlin.  We use Merlin regularly when in the field.   Although it lacks some species our iPhone is easy to carry and the organization of the app makes it easy to identify a new species. The app includes several still photos of each bird, range maps, and the call and song of the bird. It’s Free!

When at home we often access the Lab’s Website. It includes more extensive information on more species than the iPhone app and has video clips. It is outstanding, and access is also free. We like it so much we joined the Lab and appreciate receiving its gorgeous and informative magazine called LIVING BIRD. The Lab’s general web address.