No. 16: Birds and Hosting

by Frank Izaguirre

Species: Orange-crowned Warbler, Leiothlypis celata

Question: What is your favorite experience either hosting a rare bird or being hosted?

After the rarity is confirmed to be reliably visiting a private residence, there is the tense moment…

… are they allowing visitors?

With COVID, that has become an even weightier question, but back in February 2017, when the world was simpler, Adrienne and I, along with many other ABAers, were able to chase the famous and long-staying Black-backed Oriole outside Reading, Pennsylvania. The bird was incredible, conveniently present when we arrived so as to eliminate any suspense. It was eating grapes! What an intrepid and wayward adventurer.

But an aspect of that day that was just about equally memorable were the gracious hosts across the street that allowed us to stake out the bird. There was even a table with Black-backed Oriole cookies. Yes, you read that right. There were Black-backed Orioles cookies. I ate one, even though it almost felt wrong to eat something so adorable (although it was good).

Black-backed Oriole cookies. Never seen any at the supermarket.

It’s nice when the stake out is there upon arrival so you can take your celebratory selfie right away.

When I think back on that memory, I marvel at the patience and energy of those hosts and the entire neighborhood. Can you imagine day after day hosting hordes of birders? You wake up in the morning to make coffee and there are three people already on your driveway with two more cars pulling up. It might be fun for a week or two, but what about if the bird sticks for four months? Enforcing rules, curating the flow of information to the internet, wondering if your neighbors hate you, worrying that police might show up…

While I can’t quite wrap my mind around the kind of traffic a Code 5 or even an exceptionally good local rarity might generate, I did get to play host for a few days earlier this year to a bird folks were interested in seeing: a very late Orange-crowned Warbler, which for eight days was in the habit of visiting my jelly feeder. Orange-crowned Warblers pass through our area during both migrations, but it’s uncommon and easy to miss, so I suspect a stakeout was tempting enough for some folks to come visit to get on their year or county list, get a decent photo of, or perhaps to just encounter one again after not seeing one for a while.

Yes, you: we’re looking at you, Mr. Orange-crowned Warbler.

I had around ten people visit over four or five days. Not Black-backed Oriole numbers! But I got to give away copies of Birding, help get people on the bird, and see them leave happy. Two visitors even wrote me thank you cards! Which they sent in the mail! Birders can be really good at showing appreciation when other birders help them.

Even for a small-time stakeout host like me, it’s a bit of work to host. But just as it’s a great thrill to be able to see a memorable bird at someone’s home, it’s a privilege to get to share a nice bird at your home with people who really want to see it. The Black-backed Oriole is my most memorable experience being hosted, and the Orange-crowned Warbler that recently sojourned at my jelly feeder was my first experience hosting. What’s your favorite experience hosting or being hosted?