Do you have a “Spark Bird”?   Do you remember the bird that “sparked or ignited” your interest in birdwatching?  I do.  I remember the bird and the occasion quite well.  Even to this day, when I see this bird, it reminds me of that “spark”.

In the last Bird of the Month, I mentioned that it was a juvenile American Robin that “re-sparked” my interest in birdwatching about 15 years ago.  If I go back (quite a few years) I can think of the time when my interest in birdwatching was born.  It was on the family farm in rural Tennessee where I grew up.

I remember one day riding with my grandfather on his John Deere tractor when a bird that seemed suspended in midair caught my attention.  This bird’s ability to hover in one spot seemed quite magical to me.  With the high level excitement of a farm boy, I shouted over the noise of the tractor, “Wow, Granddaddy look at that bird!”  Granddad shut off the tractor’s engine and we sat there for quite a few minutes watching this bird.  I asked, “Granddaddy, do you know the name of that bird?”  He said, “That’s a Sparrow Hawk.  You owe me 10 cents.”  (My grandfather, when imparting some kind of knowledge, regularly jested by placing monetary value to that information.  I probably owed him about a half million dollars when it was all said and done.  I still wonder how he knew the names and had knowledge of all the birds we came across on the farm.  He only had a 4th or 5th grade education.)

American KestrelThis leads me to the Bird of the Month: The American Kestrel. (Or in the colloquialism of many older folks, “Sparrow Hawk”.)

The American Kestrel is our smallest , most common, and most colorful falcon.  The beauty of this bird is quite apparent when seen in good light.  (In not so good light and from a distance, it’s possible to mistake it for a Mourning Dove.)  Its blue-gray head and wings contrast wonderfully with its rusty back and tail.  The white cheeks and throat in contrast to the black mustache marks add to the handsomeness of this superb little raptor.

American Kestrels are often not recognized as falcons, due to their diminutive size.  Yet, in spite of this kestrel’s small size, it has all the characteristics of the family of birds in which it belongs.  Swift in flight.  Aggressive in behavior.  Skilled in hunting.

A few weeks ago, I visited the location where the old family farm used to be.  The land has changed much over the years.  It’s becoming swallowed up by encroaching city sprawl.  During my visit, I took it as no coincidence that I was able to catch sight of a “Sparrow Hawk”, and at the same time view the street sign that bares my grandfather’s name.

Some spark birds are never forgotten.


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