For the birds

By Larry Dablemont, Contributing Columnist
Posted 5/15/24

I spoke to a college ornithology class about birds a few years back. I think my talk went over really well except for my woodpecker recipes. I myself have had a great fascination with birds since I …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

For the birds


I spoke to a college ornithology class about birds a few years back. I think my talk went over really well except for my woodpecker recipes. I myself have had a great fascination with birds since I was very small. I wanted to grow up and be a waterfowl biologist as dad and I floated the Big Piney River in the fall, sneaking up on wood ducks and mallards and many other species of wild migrators. John James Audubon and I had that much in common. He loved to study birds, and he actually killed and skinned and stuffed hundreds and hundreds of birds, so he could study them closely. Modern day bird-watchers don’t like to hear that.

When I was a kid, I didn’t care much for school. I couldn’t get outside enough, drawn to that greater classroom. Birds drew me to the woods and the river year round, watching various species come and go according to the season. Once a kingfisher lit on our blind as we floated the river hunting ducks. He was perched there only for a few seconds, a couple of feet from my face. I found a book which told all about them, how they nest in tunnels back into the river bank, and the nest is so filled with fish bones it appears they might be using them to shore up the tunnel.

The little green herons that were so numerous along the river in the fall always fascinated me, they didn’t appear to have any green on them whatsoever, but rather a purple, rusty color, a mean look in their eye and more patience than I could imagine. As we would float along, you’d see one of those ‘shikepokes’, as Grandpa called them, at a shallow spot, intensely staring into the water, as still as a statue. They might not move a feather for five minutes or more, and then when the time was right they would strike with lightning quickness, and come up with a small fish or minnow.

I am no less fascinated by birds now, and have developed a bird sanctuary here on Lightnin’ Ridge, in the heart of the Ozarks. It is a ridge-top of big timber, old growth oak-hickory woodlands, and there is a tremendous variety of birds here. Right now I have a pair of Baltimore orioles which likely have some eggs in a sock-like nest somewhere close. They are large, beautifully colored birds, black and orange and white, and they love grape jelly. You can put out what you want, but orioles love that jelly above and beyond anything else. You see them for about a month, and hear them chattering in the trees in the backyard, but then they are gone. Behind them comes the secretive rain-crows, or yellow-billed cuckoos, which are heard a great deal, but seldom seen in those high white-oak branches where they nest.

Bluebirds nest in the boxes I put out for them, and a pair of mockingbirds nest each year in a cedar and redbud thicket behind the garden. Brown thrashers nest in something called an almond bush. Blue grosbeaks feed at the feeders, similar in color to indigo buntings, which we have a lot of also. The grosbeaks are a little larger than the metallic blue buntings, and have rusty wing patches. There are fly-catchers, wrens, kingbirds, summer tanagers and rose-breasted grosbeaks. In a little wet opening in the back of the woods, I saw a woodcock mother with tiny chicks a couple of years ago. There are several species of woodpeckers and two big pileated woodpeckers can often be seen right out of my office window.

We no longer hear the chuck-wills-widows and whippoorwills calling at night. Both are pretty sure bets to flirt with extinction soon. But there are screech owls, and barred owls on my wooded ridge and all summer long it is easy to call them right up into the oak branches next to the porch. It is also easy to call in the bobwhite cocks which run around in circles below my screened porch, beside themselves with excitement, whistling their heads off, looking for that hen that isn’t there.

You are welcome to come sit on my porch with me and drink coffee or tea and watch the birds. It might be noted, and often is remarked about by visitors, that Lightnin’ Ridge is sort of an unkempt place at times, with unmowed grass a little too high and raspberry thickets allowed to grow fairly close to the house. But then again, no one ever complains about hearing the music of so many different kinds of birds. I don’t know how anyone lives without birds, certainly I never have, and will not. I have been told there’s lots of money in clearing your land, selling the logs and putting in acres of grass to feed herds of cattle. And I have been told the craziest thing in the world is someone who thinks he is rich because he has a forest full of wild birds all around his house. There are lots of ways to be rich.

Email me at, and write to me at P.O. Box 22, Bolivar, Mo 65613. Read all my columns at