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Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

Leonard Cohen

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

I was sorting through some photos the other day, looking for something else entirely, when I noticed how many shots of birds on wires I've captured over time. No surprise there -- what better perch suits both the bird and the photographer, each thankful for the wire for its own purposes?

If you're new to birding or photography or both, wires -- or branches or fence posts, for that matter -- are your best friends.

We often have folks here at Dawn Chorus who mention that they don't know much about birds but enjoy stopping by on Sunday mornings. Some are new to birding and want to learn some ID basics to help them.

Nothing could be more helpful to the aspiring casual birder or amateur photographer than wires, telephone lines, branches, fences, or any other horizontal perch that a passing bird can light on for a rest or singing for a mate, or perch on for hunting.

I thought I'd simply share some of the more common birds we're more likely to see perched, those birds that sit there giving us a long, easy look at them for ID or photo purposes. I think I learned more about common birds having had the opportunity to get a good look at them hanging out on wires or phone lines than anything else.

First up below, a Black Phoebe. I always think of it as the other bird besides a penguin that wears a tuxedo. If you're near water and glimpse a bird flitting up in the air and landing back on the perch it just left, it's a Black Phoebe.

Black Phoebe

Here's a curious House Finch staring at me, wondering what in the heck the big lens pointing at it is for.

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Next up is Northern Mockingbird that paused on a cyclone fence with its lunch. Northern Mockingbirds are pretty common across the U.S. and are particularly distinctive in flight, as the big white patches you see when their wings are extended are a dead giveaway.

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A California Quail, ever stylish. Most people can readily identify the quail, a bird that can perform an amazingly fast run-walk that's really quite funny to watch.

California Quail

A Hermit Thrush. Another fairly common bird, the Hermit Thrush is one of five North Americans thrushes and is the only one that winters in the U.S.

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A Belted Kingfisher (my nemesis bird). These birds are notoriously difficult to photograph because they flush at the slightest sound or movement. I've made more unsuccessful tries to capture photos of Belted Kingfishers than any other bird. (That's why I call it my nemesis.)

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A Loggerhead Shrike (rather far off, but the best I could do). This is a songbird that's also a predator. Its claim to fame is that it uses its hooked bill to grab prey and then impale it on thorns to hold them while it rips them apart. Charming.

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Another view of a Northern Mockingbird, a bird I see almost everyday in my Sacramento, CA neighborhood. This one appears to be posing.

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A Say's Phoebe, not all that common in my area, but a beauty that often perches on wires and posts and tree tops. A cousin of the Black Phoebe.

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The Mourning Dove, one of the most common birds around both urban and rural areas. They're almost as common as pigeons. That slender pointed tail is the tell when you're looking to identify this bird high above on a wire.

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The Yellow-billed Magpie is not a common bird, but I include it here because it's such an unusual specimen and because it's sitting on a wire! The Black-billed Magpie is very common across the Western U.S., but this Yellow-billed cousin is found only in a narrow strip of central California and nowhere else in the world.

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A very sleepy House Sparrow. Next to pigeons, the most plentiful bird you'll see in urban settings and hopping about on city streets or making nests up in the signs of your nearby gas station or McDonald's or Taco Bell. Yo quiero House Sparrow.

Sleeping House Sparrow

This is a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) put in here gratuitously to pay homage to our Dawn Chorus creator and host, lineatus.

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A Red-tailed Hawk. The most common hawk in North America. Gorgeous.

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Last but not least, my favorite little falcon and namesake, the American Kestrel. Such a beauty! You'll find them in farmlands and open fields, often sitting on telephone lines, waiting for prey below to reveal itself. Kestrels are declining, however, in parts of their range; we can help by putting up nest boxes. Here's a link with photos of nesting boxes and plans you can use to make your own. Completed boxes are readily available online and on ebay.  

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Originally posted to Kestrel on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 05:59 AM PST.

Also republished by Birds and Birdwatching.

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