“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins as in art with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.” –Aldo Leopold, “Marshland Elegy,” A Sand County Almanac.
Some birds just have a mystique to them. When you see them, you feel weightless for a moment. Their beauty, in Leopoldian terms, is yet beyond the reach of words. These are show-stoppers that make for lasting memories.
This post was inspired by the mass movement of Sandhill Cranes over Chicago during the past 10 days. I’ve tried to capture here seven Midwestern species that qualify at this level of beauty and delight. In part their magic lies in that they are not all too common. That may be why people text or call a friend when they see them. There’s a bit of surprise and astonishment that goes along with these sightings.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I welcome your thoughts in the comments.
The species that inspired this post after they thrilled Chicagoans in recent weeks. Their unique mannerisms, primordial calls, and simple elegance brightens every day we’re around them.
There’s nothing more magical than a calling plover on a Great Lakes beach, doing just as they’ve done for centuries. As we’ve seen in Chicago, their dapper appearance is only matched by their feisty behavior and devoted parenting skills.
The national symbol is thankfully a much more common sight than a few decades ago. Our largest breeding raptor offers a majesty that few other birds can evoke.
These golden “swamp candles” decorate riparian areas and bottomlands like holiday ornaments. Their friendly mien and resonant songs add to their charm.
Another comeback story, our biggest native waterfowl species is an increasingly common sight. They make any shallow pond, river, or marsh feel a little wilder with their presence.
“The world is full of talkers, but it is rare to find anyone who listens. And I assure you that you can pick up more information when you are listening than when you are talking.”
― E.B. White, The Trumpet of the Swan
There may be no crimson or scarlet as vibrant as that of a male tanager. They’re just elusive enough in the tree tops to make each sighting a treasure.
Perhaps no other passerine species marks the return of spring so clearly as these members of the blackbird family. Baltimore Orioles are frequent sights amid parklands, groves, and open woods in the warmer months.
Which show-stopping species did I miss? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
I think it's easy for people to forget how gorgeous Blue Jays and cardinals are because they are so common. I would also argue that female Red-winged Blackbirds and most sparrows have such rich layers of beautiful browns that they merit long looks to be fully appreciated.
Its wonderful to see any humans appreciating birds. We need them...way more than they NEEDED us. The reason I say "needed", is bc before we as humans ruined almost everything for all birds practically. Now since we made this "mess" in THEIR HOME we need to do all we can to make this right by them (the birds). They entertain us daily w/their beautiful song &their physical beauty when we are privileged enough see them. Thanks for showing ppl they are a necessary part of this world