Back in the house after failing to find a swallow I sat at my desk, looking out the window and thinking about the swallows and two male red-winged blackbirds landed on the bird feeder outside. And I thought, when was the last time I saw a female redwing? I can’t remember but it’s been days, perhaps weeks. Female red-winged blackbirds may have been gone even longer than the swallows. Did they, too, leave all at once? As with the day of the departure of the swallows, I don’t know.
A friend called a few weeks ago to tell me a red-breasted nuthatch had been coming to his bird feeder. Red-breasted nuthatches nest farther north than Indiana. When not nesting they sometimes stay in their nesting area and they sometimes wander, often far to the south, as far as the Gulf Coast, to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and northern Florida.
Two weeks after my friend called about the red-breasted nuthatch at his bird feeder, I saw one at the bird feeder outside my study window. My friend and I can both tell you the date we first saw a red-breasted nuthatch this fall but I can’t tell you and I doubt my friend can tell you the date he last saw a swallow or a female red-winged blackbird this fall.
Are the swallows and female red-winged blackbirds examples of that old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind?” While I’m writing of birds out of sight, I’ll add two more. Rose-breasted grosbeaks and Baltimore orioles, both males and females, came to our bird feeders from some time in the spring through the summer. If I bothered to look in my diary I could tell you the date last spring when I first saw each. Now I haven’t seen either in a few weeks. But would I have written the last day I saw either? Not a chance. How would I have known it was the last time?
On the other hand, I’ve seen a female purple finch and a pine siskin on the feeder outside my study window this fall. These, like red-breasted nuthatches, nest farther north and don’t go south every winter.
But they do wander south some years and I can tell you the date I saw one of each at my feeder this fall. But I can’t tell you when the swallows disappeared.