Among avian Oscar nominees, almost everyone wins at something.
Most gorgeous bird? Hmmm. So many nominees. Hummingbird, cardinal, bluebird, indigo bunting, scarlet tanager, summer tanager, goldfinch, snowy owl. While my vote likely goes to whichever bird I’m watching at the moment, during thoughtful reflection, drake wood duck wins. How can he wear so many vivid colors without their clashing?
Who’s the best family man? Several species have fine reputations for attentive mates, helping with nest building, feeding his mate while she incubates their eggs, loyally feeding chicks. But I’d vote for bluebirds. Mostly monogamous, he keeps a watchful eye at the nest site, protecting her from predators, bringing her juicy caterpillars, helping feed the nestlings. When the babies leave the nest, he tends to the fledglings while she starts another brood.
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Award for best single mom? Without question, hummingbirds win. The male’s 20-second role in this partnership leaves the female building her nest, incubating eggs, feeding nestlings, and while feeding fledglings, starting a second nest–entirely alone. When the second brood fledges, finally she turns attention to herself, fattening up to survive her migration to Costa Rica.
Sweetest song? Nominees include Carolina wren for its year-round singing, bluebird for its quiet warble, and the three most musical mimics–mockingbird, catbird, and brown thrasher, the latter holding the official record for most songs sung without repetition. But my award goes to this final nominee: wood thrush, the bird that sings an amazing flute duet with itself.
Who wins for most elaborate nest? Nominees have to include hummingbirds for their English-walnut-size nests so tiny but so perfectly camouflaged we rarely see them. Someone would surely nominate soon eagles for the sheer bulk of their nests. Owls, on the other hand, would be non-starters since they use whatever old nest or cavity they can find. My vote, however, goes to Baltimore oriole for its hanging nest, woven of long fibrous strands that somehow withstand wind and rain to rock babies in a cozy swinging pocket.
Several birds could be nominated as best quick-change artist; but in my book, goldfinches win — not because they switch plumage from summer gold to winter olive and back again, but because they also switch bill color. Gray-tan in winter, bills turn pinkish orange in summer.
Since bird bills, like human fingernails, are made of keratin, changing bill color is like somehow changing fingernail color without painting on polish. Now that’s a trick surely worth an award!
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Finally, who gets best supporting role among avian pairs? Many plain-Jane females play second fiddle to male counterparts in the “looking good” category: all-brown females partnering with brilliant blue male indigo buntings, streaky brown females joining handsome black and white red-bibbed male rose-breasted grosbeaks, or yellow -green females feeding hatchlings next to bright yellow, black-winged male goldfinches.
My vote, though, goes to another tan bird that I could argue is, in her own way, even prettier than her all-red male counterpart. You know her: the female cardinal. Okay, tan lacks pizzazz; but the red tipped crest, red washed breast, and red trim along tail and wings — what a delicately lovely gown she wears.