The Importance of Names – The Birds

Osprey ~ Wikipedia


Oh, large brown, thickly feathered creature
with a distinctive white head,
you, perched on the top branch
of a tree near the lake shore,
as soon as I guide this boat back to the dock
and walk up the grassy path to the house,
before I unzip my windbreaker
and lift the binoculars from around my neck,
before I wash the gasoline from my hands,
before I tell anyone I’m back,
and before I hang the ignition key on its nail,
or pour myself a drink—
I’m thinking a vodka soda with lemon—
I will look you up in my
illustrated guide to North American birds
and I promise I will learn what you are called.
                           “Osprey” ~ Billy Collins


Comments always are welcome.
Image courtesy Wikipedia. For more about poet Billy Collins, please click here.

58 thoughts on “The Importance of Names – The Birds

    1. I still carry some books with me, and often consult them, but it’s a fact that the internet makes identification easier than ever before. ‘It’ isn’t always right, but it’s almost always possible to find a starting point there.

      1. I check Images for my question and click on the one that looks the closest. Then i go to the site it came from. Like you said, not always right, but…

    1. The photo’s not mine. I embedded a caption and link in the photo and added a note at the bottom of the post, but I guess it wasn’t enough, so I put in a note below the photo that it’s from Wikipedia. I only wish the photo was mine!

    1. I was a little too subtle with my attributions for the photo, so I added a caption below it; it’s from Wikipedia. I only wish I had taken a photo like that! As for Billy Collins, he’s been a favorite since I first read him: especially this one.

  1. Perfect post – photo and words. You do search out the best combos
    Are they even more beautiful and graceful because they are not aware of that? (Seems true with people)
    Was lucky enough to see a raptor waiting for the morning bunny at dawn this morning…bunny lucky we came by and his watcher decided he didn’t want an audience…for right then. Enjoy the day

    1. Our winter residents have shown up at Lakewood again: right on time. One seems to have adopted a mast a few boats down from where I’m working. With luck, he’ll stay there. I’d prefer not to spend the next weeks cleaning up fish entrails that land on the deck while he’s eating dinner.

      I rarely see a bunny, but I spotted one last week — in the median of South Shore Blvd., for heaven’s sake. I presume it was on its way to a more sheltered location, and got there without a hawk or a car doing it in.

      1. Yep – the monarchs are few and winter is edging in. Managed to grab a few pansies and put them in pots last week at Maas before the pickings got slim, so I’m done and winter ready. (Gads will we manage to live through the political voting onslaught…talk about litter. Must not be funny to a bunny! (a few lingering along out greenbelt – I think they actually live in people’s backyard when not grazing. Add cat avoidance instruction to the little hares, please – the neighbor across the street was brought a tribute bunny to her back door. “Whyyyy,” she cried. “I know you aren’t hungry!” Cat just said “Nature of things.” Run bunnies!

    1. I didn’t know that. Once it’s pointed out, the relationship is obvious. Given the multitude of birds of prey, I wonder how it happened that the osprey was given the name, rather than some other. That may be unknowable.

  2. Dear Linda Leinen,

    Thank you for featuring my avian colleague the Osprey so commendably. Well done!

    In return, you are cordially invited to come and fly alongside SoundEagle in the following special post that can resonate with the (embodied, corporeal and/or transcendental) Imagery and Impression as well as Being and Feeling of soaring like an eagle, whether symbolically, intellectually, aesthetically or spiritually, so that you may imagine yourself gliding above the city and tree canopies:

    At this post, you will definitely see SoundEagle soaring in the sky!
    Please enjoy!

    1. There’s very little more enjoyable than the sight of a soaring bird, whether osprey, eagle, vulture, or hawk. During migration, many species come through this area, and watching them is a favorite activity for many. Clearly, you appreciate them, too — thanks for stopping by and sharing your site.

  3. What a majestic creature! Just look at how impressive he’s posing, as if daring anybody to challenge him. And if anybody needed proof, check out that beak! Nicely done, Linda and I can totally relate to the poem, too.

    1. They are majestic birds, and they’ll often pose long enough for wonderful photos. I wish one of them perching around me would leave the top of its mast and come a little closer. Next week I’m going to take my camera to work and see if I can catch one of the newcomers in a pose like this. Despite seeing them all the time, I still don’t have my own photo of one.

    1. His style appeals to me, too. Of course, that same style has been criticized as being too ‘open,’ ‘approachable,’ and ‘simplistic.’ Personally, I appreciate those attributes, in poems as well as people, but that’s just me — and apparently thee!

    1. My experience is just the opposite. I do fairly well with plant identification, but shorebirds? All of those sandpipers and plovers and little-bitty-whatevers are as tough as the sparrows. I laughed when I learned that birders have their equivalent to plant lovers’ DYCs: ‘Darned Yellow Composites.’ For the birders, it’s the LBBs — ‘Little Brown Birds’ — that perplex. Given the title of his poem, Billy Collins obviously nailed his ID!

  4. Oh, I do love the falciforms and their ilk. That yellow, mesuring eye; those serious talons; that sickle of a bill. Fish is always on the menu, but a la carte is always a possibility.

    1. There’s been some serious fishing going on around Clear Lake recently. I usually just see ospreys perching or flying, but recently I’ve enjoyed watching several carrying fish in their talons. Watching one that’s carrying a fish circle and circle, trying to decide how to land on a sailboat’s rigging without losing the fish, can provide at-work entertainment galore.

    1. Or the bird listener, too. I spent an entire year trying to figure out which bird was singing so beautifully at my apartment complex. Its song was so loud, I assumed the bird was large, and it frustrated me that I couldn’t find it. When I did eventually spot it singing from the top of some shrubs, I was astonished — it was a house wren!

  5. Beautiful capture!! I don’t see osprey very often, only when I travel somewhere they live, so this was a treat. The poem is a perfect companion to your lovely photo.

    1. If you’re ever around the Lakeway section of Lake Travis, keep your eyes open. The Austin-American Statesman did an article in 2020 about a resident osprey named Oscar who fishes out there. Now I’m wondering if Billy Collins was fishing the day the osprey inspired his poem!

    1. From your comment, I suspect you know the experience of coming in, dropping everything, and heading to the computer to get a better look at ‘that’ image — just to confirm you did in fact see what you thought you saw!

  6. Excellent poem that captures the urgency of absolutely needing to know. Your comment about cleaning up after the feast made me think “follow the trail of entrails of osprey’s prey.”

    1. I love that line you’ve created. The next time I have to swab the decks, I’ll remember it, and console myself that even such a lowly task can inspire creativity. Maybe I’ll put the lyrics to music; that would be fun.

      There’s nothing better than seeing a new ‘something’ that inspires the thought, “What in the world is that thing?” Knowing can be satisfying, but not-knowing can lead to a whole lot of fun.

    1. Those eyes are one of the osprey’s best features, and one of its most useful. Their vision’s not only several times more acute than that of a human, their eyes face forward, providing excellent depth perception. When one’s circling high above a lake, looking for fish, that’s a real benefit.

  7. Having grown up in Florida, the Osprey is as ubiquitous as our sunshine. My Dad called them Fish Hawks as we admired their prowess from our small boat on big Lake Okeechobee.

    Watching them mate, rebuild old nests and rear a new family each year is incredibly rewarding.

    It is so human of me to have to “know” its name.

    1. I was introduced to the name ‘fish hawk’ in Louisiana; it sure does make sense. I enjoy watching them fish, but I love watching their decision process as they try landing on sailboat spreaders with one of those fish in their talons.

      As for names, who knows? Perhaps even Ospreys enjoy being in a place where everybody — or at least a few — know their names!

  8. Sometimes you just have to know! The first time I saw an osprey (from a distance), I thought it was an eagle. Now I’ve learned to tell the difference. Once, I was riding a bike on my beloved Sanibel Island and an osprey flew overhead with a silver fish in it’s mouth. I just stared….which is not a good thing to do when you’re pedaling away on a bike. I almost ran into a light pole!

    1. Ospreys, eagles, and hawks are easy enough to confuse, especially in the beginning. Another reader just reminded me that another name for ospreys is ‘fish hawk,’ and that certainly suits them. I’m glad you’ve had the experience of seeing one in flight with its fish; the first time I saw that, I hardly could believe what I was seeing. I hope the time will come for you to see that sight again — especially on Sanibel!

    1. You know me so well, Jeanie. I’m less and less a full-speed-ahead sort of person. There’s a time for Point A to Point B travel, but there’s also a time to wander; to piddle around; to shilly-shally — especially if something seems out of the ordinary!

  9. I love this one. It perfectly fits my own mentality when I’m out and about. I love seeing a bird I don’t know the name of because it’s another opportunity to return to my field guides, another chance to learn something new. And I absolutely love this portrait of an osprey. Such beautiful birds.

    1. A new bird’s rather like a puzzle, isn’t it? or like a mystery to be solved. Looking for clues is great fun, and when the last piece of the puzzle suddenly fits, there’s nothing like it. Robins and Cardinals are one thing, but there’s still that flock of mixed shorebirds to be sorted out! As for the Osprey, once recognized, it’s never forgotten.

  10. Ignoring the picture, and reading the poem, I was thinking “bald eagle.”

    Ever notice how bird id books sometimes don’t quite match the local variations? Just yesterday I was looking up white crowned sparrow to verify I had the right critter, but it ended up looking more like a gold crowned sparrow whose crown was white instead.

    1. I rarely use a book to identify birds, partly because I got interested in them after the good internet sites had been developed. But your point holds in other areas; trying to figure out which phlox or goldenrod species I’m looking at can be tough. It’s not just that the descriptions and photos can be ambiguous; it’s also true that there are so many species not everything can get into a book. Add genetic abnormalities and cross-breeding to the mix, and things can get flat confusing!

    1. I suspect you don’t need to use them very often. You clearly have spent enough time watching all the activity around your place to be able to name nearly everything: butterflies and plants, as well as birds. It is great that the ‘newbies’ show up from time to time, though. The unpredictability is part of the fun.

    1. Or: the internet has eliminated the boredom of page flipping! Actually, I do make use of books aplenty, but I surely appreciate some of our new tools. Books are limited partly because not every species can be included, and the increasing number of taxonomic changes that are being rolled out often aren’t part of the older books I have. I do a lot of casual browsing, though. Looking at plenty of photos can help train the eye to recognize a family or a genus in the field.

      1. It’s true that not every species can be included in a book but also that the internet often gives a false ID on occasion. iNaturalist is well known for that. I start with iNat to narrow the field, verify with BG.Net, and then look at a book to see a little more information. But I enjoy flipping pages to get familiar with other species, lookalikes, etc.

    1. Our Ospreys are back now, so I have the chance to observe live ones every day. If they only would come down from the top of the masts, I could get a decent photo, but they seem to prefer a high perch — perhaps the better to see the fish.

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