Though located in the center of downtown Springdale, the Shiloh Museum grounds are host to a surprising amount of wildlife. Having been privileged to enjoy the grounds during my 30 years at the museum, I have seen most of the various creatures who share this park-like setting with the historic buildings, museum visitors, and staff. I have been entertained and sometimes annoyed by the antics of squirrels and raccoons, thrilled to watch hawks, amazed to see nesting ducks, and kept clear of (always benign but still scary to me) snakes. Amongst this menagerie are of course any number of common birds such as sparrows, cardinals, robins, grackles, crows, and occasionally, the more unique (to me). I once saw a catbird up high in one of the trees. I don’t think I would have seen it if I hadn’t first heard its distinctive call.
Well, the other day I added a new bird to the list. I was sitting at lunch in our breakroom that has one narrow window in the corner. It looks out on to an inside corner of the museum building, into a bed of perennials and shrubs of various kinds that flower throughout the growing season. The window is double-glazed and the exterior glass is smoke colored. Anyone inside can see out but it is hard to see in the window from the outside. This makes for some close-up viewing of birds who find their way into the shrubs.
So there I was mid-meal with co-worker Curtis Morris when I saw a small bird land on a shrub branch close to the window. Though similar in color to a young finch, it didn’t take but a second to notice that this little guy was no finch; he bore a black mask across his face. Sure, male goldfinches have black on their heads, but this bird’s marking looked like the mask of Zorro—across his face and around his eyes. While Curtis and I tried to get a better look at him, our subject of interest was busy eating his lunch. He flitted from branch to branch as he picked away at whatever snack he was finding until he disappeared from view.
After doing the proverbial Google search, I had the bird identified. He was a Common Yellowthroat. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website, the habitat for the Common Yellowthroat ranges across most of the United States, the Canadian provinces, and western Mexico. While more commonly found in wet areas, they also live in dry upland pine forests, ditches, river edges, hedgerows, fields, disturbed areas—most anywhere as long as it provides the low, dense vegetation they prefer for nesting and feeding, which is just what our guy found in the beds around the museum.
The Yellowthroat might be “common,” but it was an unusual sight to me. The next day I went to lunch armed with a camera but the little masked stranger did not return.
Carolyn Reno is the assistant director/collections manager at the Shiloh Museum.