Brighten your day with a little luck | WHIDBEY BIRDING

A male Rufous Hummingbird pauses long enough for a photo. - Craig Johnson photo
A male Rufous Hummingbird pauses long enough for a photo.
— image credit: Craig Johnson photo

In my last column I tossed out the invitation for readers to nominate favorite “good luck” birds. I was hoping for suggestions that raise our spirits, put a smile on our faces when we see or hear them and might even be a sighting so special it has turned us into a bird watcher.

I was delighted with your response. Clearly we now need categories since I received nominations for best songster, best year-round bird, most anticipated spring migrant, most majestic bird as well as birds that just plain brighten our days.

Winner of “The Voice” category on South Whidbey was a shy, brownish bird with perfect pitch, the Swainson’s thrush. You may not have actually seen this bird but if you’ve stopped to listen in wooded areas during the late spring after this migrant arrives, and caught the bird’s musical ascending trill, you likely found your spirits soaring along with the song.

For the best year-round bird, I was surprised to have the Red-winged Blackbird nominated, since it’s a rather common bird, like the robin. The musicality of its vocalizations may be suspect.

Yet, there is no denying that the bird’s song transports us to a pastoral wetland or small cattail pond like no other sound. It’s the tune of Deer Lagoon marsh or the Ewing Road ponds.

There were several nominations for the most beloved harbinger of spring. Swallows, of course, and the arrival of the migrating rufous hummingbirds. But the winner has to be the Western tanager for its spectacularly bright red head and yellow body. This bird arrives later than many migrants, doesn’t come begging at our feeders and favors tall trees. Its soft song is short and fluty and easily missed, so you’ve got do some searching.

When you catch a glimpse, pause to take in this wondrous creature. I can guarantee your soul will soften and life will seem easier. One reader described it thus: “Like all things bright and beautiful, it just makes you smile whenever you see one.”

Hands down we all agree that the bald eagle wins for most majestic bird. Most mornings as I sit with a cup of coffee looking east over Possession Sound, the first birds I see are bald eagles.

They appear way off over the water, banking in wide circles and then fly directly toward me, swooping into the tall fir tree in front of our house. The first to arrive calls loudly to its mate who follows several minutes later. I can’t think of a more magical way to begin my day.

One bird I love to see but wouldn’t have thought to nominate myself is the varied thrush. This slate blue and orange species with a black medallion around its neck spends the coldest part of the winter with us.

“It comes out when the days are drabbest and spirits are lowest, yet glimmers with crisp bright colors and promises renewal,” the nominator wrote.

Several of you agreed on the overall “good luck bird.” It’s one we can see year round, has dazzling color and is easily drawn to a feeder. It’s a bird we all learn in childhood and although small in size it has a mighty presence — the hummingbird.  One nominee wrote, “I always stop and look or listen and smile.”

Here on South Whidbey we have two species. As mentioned above, the rufous hummingbird is an early arriving migrant that spends the breeding season with us. This year the first sightings were in late February. By now, most of us with sugar water feeders already have the hummers buzzing for liquid refreshment.

The second hummingbird species stays here year-round. Yep, even during those sub-freezing days and nights, the Anna’s hummingbirds stick around. Those of us with feeders take special effort to keep fresh, unfrozen sugar water available.

If you haven’t already, I invite you to choose your own good-luck bird, either from the list above or discover your own favorite. Notice it and allow it to brighten your day. Good luck will surely follow.

Frances Wood can be reached at and Craig Johnson is at


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