Now that spring has finally (somewhat) arrived in western New England, our feeder has become increasingly busy with our usual cast of characters. Our house sparrows and purple finches are back (though the sparrows never completely left), as are our cardinal couple, and we’ve had a robin and several blue jays join us. Our chipmunk is awake and back after a long winter’s absence, and George, our squirrel is as crazy as ever. What’s most exciting to me is watching the newcomers arrive and trying to identify the ones I’ve never seen before. Among these is Clancy, our one and only white-throated sparrow, whose eye feathers make me think of Larry Hagman, and a beautiful yet non-descript bird who arrived a few weeks ago. With no distinctive marks, and only a slight bit of olive yellow on her chest, I had no clue how to figure out her breed. My husband even named her Carmen, a la”Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego” because she was just that much of a mystery. I knew what she wasn’t – she’s too big to be a sparrow and her head’s all wrong to be one of our myriad mourning doves, so neither of us had a clue. Then, on the 4th (last Thursday) she showed up again, this time with a male. He craned his neck skyward and at first I thought he was trying to figure out how to get onto the feeder; then he puffed up his chest and started hopping and chirping at the female. After he ran off another male, I realized I was watching a mating ritual. The male had a chocolate brown head and the rest of his body was iridescent black, like a crow or blackbird. A quick Google search finally revealed their identity – we have a brown-headed cowbird couple that visits our feeder. After a bit of research, I learned that Carmen and her beau will never build a nest – instead she will lay one egg at a time (between 40 and 70 a summer) in another bird’s nest. The young then take over their foster parent’s attention, sometimes to the detriment of the other hatchlings, which has pushed some birds like the black capped vireo toward the endangered species list. Some people consider the cowbird a “nuisance” or a “parasite”, but I don’t think we should anthropomorphize animals of any kind. Nature is ugly, brutal and at times violent, but it’s just that…nature. Cowbirds don’t make any judgment calls about their targets any more than any other animal does. It’s simple instinct, which is why we renamed Carmen Catherine ( after Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct). This morning, Catherine and her man were back, together with our mourning doves and sparrows and many of our other feathered friends. Have I mentioned how obsessed I am with bird watching?