I’ve always loved birds. I think it came from my mom and her mother. My grandmother once nursed a sparrow back to good health after finding it unable to fly outside in Greenpoint. I remember my father-in-law, Bill Timothy, telling me about where he grew up in Woodside, there were woods! Same in Greenpoint, once known as the “garden spot of the world” but ravished by factories by the time I arrived.
Rockaway is home to many seabirds; we see them at the shore and flying by. Every once in a while, you can catch some strange ones in our midst, maybe because of the migratory path or the bird sanctuary or the occasional escape of exotic birds from Kennedy Airport. On a normal day you can spot laughing gulls, Terns, Black Skimmers, Oyster Catchers, and sandpipers. Occasionally, you will catch a wayward gannet or bufflehead. We are lucky to have Osprey living in Broad Channel. Last year, I had a red-tailed hawk perched on my back fence! They are big, and I don’t often see hawks here in Rockaway. We do have falcons living under the Crossbay and Marine Parkway bridges. And if you swing by the sanitation plant, you will usually find swallows diving about.
Years ago, I planted a bunch of trees in the backyard, and then started to put out bird seed in feeders. What a show I have been treated to. Maybe you have done the same? We get plenty of sparrows, a few robins, mockingbirds, and families of cardinals. The cardinals are especially fun in the winter, with the bright red coats against new fallen snow. I have always been partial to blue jays. Don’t know why, just find that in nature blue (except for the sky and ocean) is rare. I have been lucky enough to find blue jays in Central Park, and always hoped we’d get some here. They are part of the crow family, and can be noisy and aggressive, but I was hoping. Then one day the mermaid got up very early and said that our feeder had several blue jays. I couldn’t believe it. So, I set the alarm (I no longer get up early, for anything!) and lo and behold the blue jays were feasting on the feed. Not one or two, but like eight! I was delighted. But once 7 or 8 rolls around, they split and head elsewhere.
Deep in the summer, we sometimes get hummingbirds. They must be lost, because this is not where they are supposed to be, at least in my opinion. One day, we looked out and spotted what looked like a cross between a robin and an oriole. We looked it up and it was a grosbeak. We had never even heard of them before. If you bike through Fort Tilden, you are likely to see red-winged black birds and crows. If you go to Bungalow Bar at low tide you might be lucky to spot herons and snowy egrets.
The backyard also attracts finches, purple and sometimes yellow. And those all-black birds you see in the ocean that dive under and come up are cormorants. They seem to be flying overhead a lot this year. I haven’t had any woodpeckers, but wished we did have one or two, just for variety, although I understand they can be noisy. Speaking of noisy, our friends the cicadas will be visiting this year, after seventeen years in the ground. They might attract a whole new group of birds to the backyard.
The pandemic is almost behind us now, but don’t forget those quiet moments that came to us over the last 18 months when the simple pleasure of walking the beach or peering out our back window brought us the joy of seeing all the beautiful birds that are here for our enjoyment. Maybe leave a little feed out for them, they will repay you with their beauty and remind you how beautiful Rockaway can be.
By Lou Pastina