Brian Mittge Commentary: This One’s for the Birds (of Lewis County)

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I saw a great headline this week: “New Zealand held a contest for Bird of the Year. The birds lost.” The story was accompanied by a picture of a bat.

To be precise, it was the New Zealand long-tailed bat, which it turns out is highly endangered. It is also one of only two mammals native to New Zealand (unless you also count aquatic mammals like seals and whales).

I had no idea, but apparently New Zealand is home to a whole lot of birds, but only two native mammals, and they’re both bats.

A conservation group holds an annual “Birds of New Zealand” contest, and somehow this year the fan favorite was actually the pekapeka long-tailed bat.

“Despite being our only endemic land mammal, most people don’t even know they exist, which makes their win even more outstanding,” tweeted Forest and Bird, which sponsors the annual contest.

So I have to ask, who would win a “Birds of Lewis County” contest?

The heavyweight contender, of course, would be the Yard Bird. Her stalwart, cheery form has overlooked the swamps of north Chehalis (home to many actual birds) since the 1970s, with her sidekick baby bird always a happy companion.

There are actually several forms of the Yard Bird, including goggle-eyed statues that were once scattered around the countryside.

Another big contender would be the Yard Bird’s cousin down the road. The Sunbird Shopping Center doesn’t have as prominent a mascot, but its avian spirit (now under new ownership) has sustained a thriving retail establishment long past the transition of Yard Birds from a proto-Walmart to a venue for other much smaller businesses and events.

And without weighing in on which came first, the chicken or the egg, it’s clear that the World’s Largest Egg has to be a candidate in the Birds of Lewis County contest. Everyone loves the Winlock Egg, including MyNorthwest reporter Feliks Banel. Last week, he published a story with what he called “a half-dozen half-baked facts about the iconic giant Winlock Egg.”

Inspired by its fowl history, Winlock has erected a series of proud rooster statues around town, all bedeckt in a bevy of colors, styles and themes.

Several high school teams around the county have feathered mascots, including the area’s newest sports team mascot, the Toledo Riverhawks. The school district is still in the process of developing a logo and look for their new name after announcing in August they would change from their longtime moniker of the Toledo Indians based on a recent state law.

Back up in Egg Town, we have the Winlock Cardinals. Speaking of which, perhaps Cardinal Glass in Evaline should be considered for our Birds of Lewis County contest. Its float glass, formed on a bath of molten tin, is in high demand for energy-efficient windows in residential and business construction, and it’s a major employer.

If one looks back in history, perhaps the World’s Largest Omelette deserves an honorable mention. This enormous egg-bake was a publicity stunt held at Alexander Park just west of Chehalis 90 years ago, in July of 1931. An enormous cast-iron skillet was forged in Seattle and shipped down to Chehalis, where a photogenic young woman (she made the national newsreels) donned skates of bacon to grease the pan before 7,200 eggs were cracked and cooked. That was a tasty treat and a world record for the Mint City.

And no bird contest would be complete without, well, actual birds.

My old friend Russ Mohney, the late “Peasant Naturalist,” used to drive a circle along the rivers of the Chehalis basin looking for hawks, eagles, owls and other birds of prey. He called it his “great circle,” and a simple count of raptors along this route gave him a good sense of how healthy our local bird population was each year.

We also have our many fans of hummingbirds, songbirds, great blue herons and even our honky visitors from up north, Canada geese. Heck, for a while, my oldest son’s favorite local bird was a turkey vulture he saw eating roadkill in the woods nearby.

Few sights are as rare as the birds of the air.

Which of our feathered friends would you choose as the top Bird of Lewis County?

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Brian Mittge is a bird fan (and some would say a bird-brain) living south of Chehalis. Drop him a line at brianmittge@hotmail.com.