In the eastern section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park I came across a remarkable bird. As far as I know, this is the first documented sighting of the so-called Christmas Bird (Xmasii noelensis) in our area. The bird’s red crest, green collar, and azure-colored wings are diagnostic as is the bicolor beak. I was down at the river on a rather foggy morning when I noticed the bird flashing its wings in mockingbird fashion which is a distant relative of this species.
I was looking for interesting pieces of driftwood and odd items washed up by the Ohio River when I came across this bird. This is a long distance migrant and one that hails from as far north as the Arctic Circle. The Christmas Bird earns its name in a couple of ways. Of course, its complimentary plumage is rather seasonably inspired and it does seem to migrate to the lower 48 states around the time of the holidays. Where the bird will appear is rather unpredictable, however, it is a welcome sight in most any location. Here I have photographed the bird “flashing” its wings against its body while perched upon a driftwood log. The park is in Southern Indiana and the skyline of Louisville, Kentucky can be seen across the Ohio River. After taking this shot, the bird flew off.
I said to myself…”Well, that’s that”. I fully did not expect to see this rare bird again, but I received a “gift” of a rather unexpected nature. Underneath the old iron railroad bridge, not too far away from my initial sighting, I came across this “decorated” nest and recognized its significance. This is a display from the Christmas Bird. Using an abandoned mud-lined nest of an American Robin, (Turdus migratorius), the Christmas Bird has created an assemblage involving red berries and the remains of a string of old Christmas lights that washed into the park with the other river-bourn detritus. From this evidence, I suspected the bird had “claimed” this area. If I in turn displayed patience…I might get another opportunity to photograph this unusual species.
I waited about an hour and the Christmas Bird did appear to my great joy! It arrived at the nest with a red berry in its beak which it added to its growing collection. It is believed that this bird is attracted to the color red. Usually, berries from the holly tree are used, but in this instance I recognized them as the fruit of the Nandina plant. The bird probably discovered them growing in a private garden in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana. It is suspected by ornithologists that the southerly migration of the Christmas Bird, which brings it to warmer climates, may trigger this unusual nest-like and courting behavior. The Christmas Bird is known for its ability to tolerate extreme cold and it takes a great drop in temperature to stimulate it to migrate.
I was able to observe this bird making about ten trips back and forth between the nest and its berry source. If the bird was aware of my presence…it did not appear to be overly alarmed. Once in a while, the bird with crest erected, would cock its head back and forth trying to differentiate my form among the willow branches. I held my breath and tried to remain still and as unthreatening as possible.
The weather grew damp and cold and the sun looked like it was not going to appear from beneath its blanket of clouds. I made the decision that I had enough images and it was time to leave this bird in peace and go home. On the ride home, I felt I had been given this great gift, the gift of nature which remains priceless and timeless! For me, nothing packaged in a box and wrapped with a bow can equal this living blessing. To all who have followed my adventures by the river this year…I offer my sincerest good wishes during this season of holidays! I hope that at least once in your lifetimes, you will be visited by the Christmas Bird bringing red berries for your nest.