By Cathy Hird

Vultures circling low over the pasture is not a good sign. Too often that has pointed to a death, usually a lamb. On the road, a group stands its ground when a car approaches, unwilling to leave their meal. When I see a single bird circling high in the sky with its familiar "v" wing structure, I tell myself it has an important role in the ecosystem. Sometimes, I watch the way one senses the air, moves up and across without seeming to exert any effort at all.

The other day one showed off just outside our bedroom window. On the top of a hydro pole, the bird spread its wings wide, leaned into the sun, stood balanced on this small circle. We could see the breadth of its reach, the spread of its jet-black feathers.

Our skies and trees are full of powerful birds. When in the field cutting hay, I was startled by a sudden swoop and dive of grey-brown, caught the telltale red of the hawk's tail, saw it rise with a mouse in its talons. The swallows who were swinging through the air for the insects moved out of its way.

Another day, it was a kestrel who watched my wake for its meal. In a cloudless blue sky, there was a flash of grey, red and silver. The kestrel hovered in the wind, wings rippling. It slid sideways, and then up, dove as I turned the corner to bale the windrow. I couldn't see if it caught anything.

Ravens seem to have retreated from our farm this summer. All winter, their rough call rang around our barn and shed. Many summers, they too hunt where farm equipment turns up meals.

Once, when the raven dug in the laid-out hay, a red-winged blackbird interfered with its hunt. The tiny bird pounced on the raven's back, darted away from its beak, tormented it until the raven left in frustration. Often, when I was cultivating or disking, a raven would come within two meters of the tractor, digging in the open ground. I got a close-up look at its rough beak and neck feathers. I find it intriguing that it would not come near a person standing on the ground, but did not mind the tractor.

Red-winged blackbirds are defiant little things. Their trill sings out before the snow is off the ground claiming territory for a family. I see the pair landing at the top of a cattail, waving in the breeze. They dive down into the grass, to a nest I cannot see. They chase larger birds away from their part of the swamp.

I often see small birds chasing larger ones from their nesting area, but the other day when our barn cat had caught a chipmunk, a swallow dive bombed her. It swooped down at her head, her back, distracted her so the chipmunk jumped away. I suppose the cats are seen as enemies by the swallows that share the barn with them, but I had never seen a bird try to rescue another creature before.

When I went to do chores the other day, the number of swallows that whirled around the stable door seemed to have multiplied. They filled the air with their circling dance. I have a feeling their young have fledged.

The king bird young are still in the nest near our back door. I know this because many times when I come near, I catch sight of one with an insect its mouth waiting for me to pass so it can feed the nestlings.

Hummingbirds are also hanging around the house. They dine on honeysuckle or lilac or comfrey depending what is in flower. Morning glory will come soon, so right through August we will hear the whir of wings, watch the hovering birds.

Early this spring, my daughter summoned me to look at another hoverer. A small orange creature poked its long beak into the phlox. It seemed to have hair not feathers, and it was coloured like a bumble bee. It let us get really close as its wings whirled. An internet search revealed that we had a hummingbird moth sharing our garden.

I saw it again just this week. I wonder if it is new to the neighbourhood or if I had just not noticed it before.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.