Falling Off a Log

cattle_egrets_noxubeenwr-ms_20090618_lah_3955-1Have you ever watched a bird leave its perch? I mean, really looked? Lately I’ve been paying close attention to various species as they fall, tumble, leap, or launch themselves from the branch or fence post on which they’ve been standing. I’ve been amazed by the many different ways birds take to the air.

northern-shoveler_ridgefieldnwr-wa_20100207_lah_8648Loons require a long runway, and it has to be water. If they get stranded on land, they’re stuck, unable to fly. Other waterfowl seem to do a lot of flapping before becoming airborne, but then they’re starting from ground (or water) level. I’m actually pretty impressed that ducks manage to gain altitude at all. From my perspective, they just don’t look like they’re engineered for flight.


Songbirds have provided the most entertainment. Rosy-finches, shown here, seem to just lean over until they fall, while Black-capped Chickadees sort of hop into the air. They both wait to spread their wings until they’re on their way down. I would never have noticed had my camera not caught them in mid-flight.


An easy way to ID a small hawk is to watch it take wing. If it leaps up into the air, it’s most likely a Merlin, while if it seems to fall from its perch, it’s a Kestrel. That information can be especially helpful when all you can see is a silhouette on a wire.

Besides being fun to watch, the way birds take flight is one more clue to their identity. When a bird won’t stick around while we thumb through the field guide, that last brief glimpse may be just what we need.

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