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Devoted to Helping Birds from the Backyard to the Boondocks



by Charles Kennedy

I've been a bird watcher since 1950 but in 1950 I didn't call myself a birdwatcher and neither did those I was watching birds with. My grandpa and my dad took notice of birds, built bird houses, and put out water and food for birds. Like a lot of seven year olds, I was doing what the "grown ups" did. There were a lot of birds in our South Alabama backyard. "Redbirds" and Blue Jays came to eat the dry cornbread on the ground and a Mockingbird chased the cat. We called many of the birds by name; some remained nameless. I know now that there were many we never even saw.

Summer Tanager - "Summer Redbird"

Summer Redbird or
Summer Tanager

American Coot - "Pull-Doo"

Pull-doo or American Coot

On a summer day we might catch a glimpse of a "Summer Redbird" high in the pecan tree and at twilight a Whip-poor-will would call in the grove at the edge of the pasture. Before and after a summer rain the "Rain Crows" would announce the coming and passing of the shower. Bluebirds and sparrows would nest in the houses and Martins would fill the gourds. We spent hours watching their aerial acrobatics.

We fished a lot. Pull-doos and Di-dappers would be on the lake and an assortment of grey and white "Cranes" would stand along the shore. In the winter the privet and pyracantha would fill up with droves of "Seals" gorging themselves on berries. We once saw a flock become drunk from eating fermented chinaberries. When we went squirrel hunting in the "Big Woods", we would sometimes catch a flash of red, black, and white, and hear the sound of crazy laughter as a large bird flew through the trees. Grandpa would stop in his tracks and   whisper, "Look! There goes a Lord God." This was always a  special moment.

Chipping Sparrow - "Stink Bird"

Chipping Sparrow or Stink Bird

Cedar Waxwing - "Seal"

Cedar Waxwing or Seal

I hunted quail with my Uncle Charles behind some pretty high class bird dogs, but occasionally "Ole Sport" would point a "Stink Bird" much to the uncle's chagrin. We loved the forest, we loved to hunt and fish, and we loved the birds.

Grandpa passed away before birdwatching became a national craze. In about 1970 dad admitted that he might be a birdwatcher; sort of, that is. A short while later I started calling myself a birder. I traveled near and far to see birds for my growing list of lists. I started meeting "real" birders and noticed that they called the birds by their "real" names. I had a lot to learn!

The "Seals", I found out, were Cedar Waxwings and the "Summer Redbird" became a Summer Tanager. Our old favorite Whip-poor-will, probably the same one Hank Williams (he grew up down the road a few miles) sang about, turned out to be a Chuck-will's-widow. The gray and white "Cranes" were Great Blues, Little Blues, Snowys, and other Herons and Egrets. There wasn't a Crane in the flock.

Many of the "real" names were more exotic than the names Grandpa called the birds by. The "Rain Crow", lo and behold, was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and the Di-dapper a Pied-billed Grebe. Pull-doo, so a "real" birder told me, is South Alabamian for "Poule De Eaux" and this is Cajun French for "Water Chicken". "Either one fits better than American Coot" is probably what grandpa would say.  If "Ole Sport" were still around and still sometimes pointing Chipping Sparrows instead of Bob-whites, for the sake of the old days I would still call them "Stink Birds"

Pileated Woodpecker  "Lord God"

Pileated Woodpecker or Lord God

Grandpa and Dad and Uncle Charles are gone now but memories and the birds remain. Both are an important part of my life. Nowadays when I'm in the "Big Woods" I sometimes catch a flash of red, black, and white and hear the maniac's laughter as a Pileated Woodpecker whooshes by. It's still a special moment. In my mind it's 1950; I stop in my tracks, turn to Grandpa and whisper, "Look! There goes a Lord God!

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