Posts Tagged ‘birds’

Bird of the Month: Cedar Waxwing (and FLYAWAY excerpt!)

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

It’s time for my final Bird of the Month post! I promised you I’d post about my favorite bird, so here it is: the beautiful masked Cedar Waxwing.

Fun Facts:

* The cedar waxwing lives on berries and flying insects. It can swallow berries whole!

* This bird is distinguished by its pale yellow belly and yellow-tipped tail – and don’t forget that dramatic black mask.

* The cedar waxwing has a distinctive, high-pitched call.

* These are social birds that usually travel in flocks.

* Look for cedar waxwings in fruit trees, berry bushes, and along rivers.

Go here to learn more about this beautiful bird.

And now for your final FLYAWAY excerpt (because, hey – in just a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to read your own copy of the book!):

One rainy Saturday at the end of September, I walk into the cage room to find Alan behind the counter, cutting up salmon-berries. His dark hair falls over his face, hiding his eyes.

“Hey,” he says without looking up.

“Hey, yourself.” I hang my raincoat by the door and slide around to his side of the counter. “Need any help?”

“Not really,” he says, but he hands me a knife.

Neither of us is big on early morning conversation. For a couple of minutes the only sound in the room is the rhythmic chop, chop, chop of our knives on the cutting board. The berry juice stains my fingers yellowish-orange, and the tart smell tickles my nostrils. When we reach for a berry at the same time and our hands touch, I shoot him a smile.

“Who are these for?” I ask.

“The cedar waxwings. We just moved them to the aviary.”

What is your favorite type of bird?



Bird of the Month: Swallow (and Flyaway excerpt!)

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

It’s time for November’s Bird of the Month, the graceful swallow.

Fun Facts:

* The swallow breeds on every continent except Antarctica.

* Some species of swallow migrate long distances, while others are non-migratory.

* These birds’ bodies have adapted to hunting insects while in flight by becoming streamlined with long, pointed wings. This body configuration aids in endurance and executing quick maneuvers.

* Males select the nest site and then attract females through song and flight.

* Some species of swallow roost communally.

You can learn more about swallows here.

And now for this month’s FLYAWAY excerpt:

 I know I shouldn’t hurry, but I’m anxious to get to Tweety Bird. So I give the crows a quick bath with the mister and then replace the basket cover. I continue down the line, feeding a fat jay, two tiny bushtits, and a couple of swallows. At last I come to the basket labeled “American Robin D.”

“Hey, Tweety Girl,” I whisper as I set down the feeding tray and fill a syringe. But when I lift the net, the basket is empty.

What’s your favorite type of bird? Next month, I’ll tell you mine!

Bird of the month: Blue Jay (and Flyaway excerpt!)

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

It’s time to focus on another of the birds of FLYAWAY, this time the noisy, cantankerous Blue Jay.

Fun facts:

* The Blue Jay is a native of North America and is commonly seen near residential areas.

* This bird feeds on nuts, seeds, soft fruits, and bugs. It usually gleans its food from trees, bushes, or the ground, but sometimes it catches bugs in flight.

* Both male and female jays participate in building the nest.

* The blue jay has a crest on its head which changes shape depending on the bird’s mood. When the jay is feeding or resting, its crest lies flat, but when it’s excited or aggressive, the crest becomes fully raised. Fright causes the crest to bristle outward.

* According to recent studies, the jay may become extinct in 10 years time.

To learn more about the blue jay, go here.

And now for an excerpt from Flyaway:

In this scene, the main character, Stevie, and Alan, a boy she knows from school, are feeding birds at On the Wing, a bird rehab clinic where they both volunteer.

“Hey,” I say, “I can’t get this jay to gape.”

“Yeah, that’s a tricky one.” He comes up next to me and peers into the cage. He’s so close his shoulder touches mine, but this time I don’t pull away. He holds one hand over the jay’s head and moves his fingers toward his thumb and then away, like a beak opening and closing.

“What are you doing?”

“Sometimes a bird will gape for me when I do this. It thinks my hand is its mothers beak.”

Sure enough, the jay opens its mouth wide, and I manage to squirt in a syringe-full of food.

Seen any blue jays in your yard lately? I’d love to hear about it!

Bird of the Month: Vulture (and FLYAWAY excerpt!)

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Well, it’s time again for a Bird of the Month post. Usually I focus on the birds mentioned in FLYAWAY, but because September 3rd was International Vulture Awareness Day, I’ve decided to focus on that fascinating but misunderstood creature.

Fun facts:

* Vultures are vital to the health of ecosystems around the world because they stop diseases from spreading.

* Their stomach juices can kill diseases such as rabies and anthrax.

* A vulture can eat up to one quarter of its body weight in meat at one meal.

* Vultures are currently threatened by poisoning, power line collisions, and loss of food and habitat.

* Some species of vultures are now facing extinction.

To learn more about vultures, go here.


As I mentioned, there are no vultures in FLYAWAY, so I’m going to share a random bird-related excerpt. This scene takes place when Stevie, the main character, first visits On the Wing, a bird rehabilitation clinic:

     She leads me to a row of incubators against the back wall. “There it is, as contented as can be.”

I peer inside the incubator. It’s Tweety Bird all right, huddled in that little berry-basket nest. Aside from having a few more feathers, she looks pretty much the same as when I found her.

Would you like to try feeding it?”

I remember learning that mother robins eat worms and puke them into their babies’ mouths. “Uh, no thanks.”

But she holds out a pair of latex gloves. “Put these on. You’ll do fine.” Then she hands me a syringe filled with some gross brown stuff.

“I thought robins ate worms.”

“We’ll get to those. But this formula is as close as we can get to what the mother bird regurgitates for her young.”

I stare at the syringe. Artificial bird puke. Nice.

Have you ever seen a vulture? Do you have a story about vultures to tell? Share away!



In praise of PAWS

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

As the release date of FLYAWAY draws closer, I want to take the time to highlight (and thank!) some of the people and organizations who made the book a reality. And no organization was more integral to my writing of this novel than PAWS.

PAWS, short for Progressive Animal Welfare Society, is a regional organization, located in Lynnwood, Washington and focusing on Washington State and the Northwest, that strives to improve the lives of animals, both wild and companion. Their mission statement reads:

“PAWS is a champion for animals- rehabilitating injured and orphaned wildlife, sheltering and adopting homeless cats and dogs, and educating people to make a better world for animals and people.”

When I began writing FLYAWAY, I knew I would need actual experience working with injured and abandoned birds to lend authenticity to the scenes at On The Wing, my fictional home-based bird rehabilitation clinic. I knew from my Internet research that PAWS had a bird nursery, so I contacted them to see if I could volunteer.

The lovely Rebecca Mandell, then the volunteer coordinator at PAWS, helped me get started. I attended volunteer trainings where I learned how to fashion toilet paper nests, make “bird mush” from soaked ferret chow, and feed baby birds using syringes and tweezers. I spent several weeks volunteering at the bird nursery, where I fed birds in incubators, baskets, and aviaries, and learned firsthand just how often baby birds need to eat! During my time as a volunteer, I met bird expert Candy Brown, who later vetted a draft of my manuscript.

My wish was to volunteer all summer, but when my doctor found out I was working with birds, he advised me to quit immediately. As a cancer survivor with no spleen, I’m at high risk for infection. It hadn’t occurred to me what a risk it might be for me to handle birds, which often carry germs that can be hazardous to humans. Reluctantly, I followed his advice and turned in my volunteer badge.

But my experience with PAWS wasn’t quite over. I knew that my novel would contain a scene where a rehabilitated bird is released into the wild, so I contacted Kevin Mack, who took me along on a robin release. I will never forget the moment when the other volunteers and I opened the cardboard box housing the robin and watched it fly away, a scene which I recreated in my book.

I will always be grateful to the people at PAWS for giving me the hands-on experience. And the Companion Animal Adoption branch of PAWS has given me one more thing to treasure.