“Scissor-Tailed Flycather! Killdeer!”

by Rachel Creager Ireland

It seems to have become a full-on habit, to call out the names of birds I see while driving. It’s like my own personal version of Tourette’s syndrome. The kids have taken to critiquing my performance. “That wasn’t as loud as you could yell, Mama.” And most of the time they don’t catch a glimpse before we’re on down the road, though the scissor-tailed flycatcher that flew in front of the windshield yesterday gave us all a lovely view of the stripes on his tail.

I get most excited about the more interesting birds, such as the said scissor-tail, which has a relatively small range, and isn’t seen many places in the US. I’ve never found any good footage of the scissor-tail in flight, even though it is the state bird of Oklahoma.

You regulars know how fond I am of turkey vultures, which are quite common and widespread in North America. But just the other day we were talking about the return of bald eagles from near-extinction, and it occurred to me that perhaps my failure to pay attention wasn’t the only reason I never saw turkey vultures when I was growing up in Emporia, just twenty miles down the highway from where I see them every day now. Their populations were hit hard by DDT contamination, like other raptors. Their numbers have increased steadily since DDT was banned in 1972, when I was five years old. So I remain unapologetically thrilled when I see them gliding above the highway, and, besides writing poetry about turkey vultures, I do not hesitate to shout out their name when I see them from a vehicle.

The kids are also used to my shouts of “Blue heron!” and “Red-winged blackbird!” and “Franklin’s gull!” We finally got my car’s air conditioner repaired, so no one outside the vehicle is likely to hear. But if you see me driving by, look to see if I’m pointing and shouting, and maybe you’ll get to see it too, whatever it is.

I tried to shoot a scissor-tail while driving once, and the best shot I got was of my own leg. Here's a cat instead, the late Toulouse.

I tried to shoot a scissor-tail while driving once, and the best shot I got was of my own leg. Here’s a cat instead, the late Toulouse.

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