I've never been much of a bird-watcher; my parents liked to have a bird-feeder outside their window ever since I was a kid, but to me they weren't nearly as cool as animals that would stay still and let you pet them (which we weren't allowed to have, I might add). Still, I'll admit I make exceptions for three factors, and today reminded me of one of them.
1) Color. Even though I never cared much about the birds at the feeder, it was still a special experience when a brilliantly vivid cardinal or blue jay stopped by. Crows (and similar dull-black birds), sparrows and the like were always just sort of there, but it was always neat to see a brightly-colored bird catch the eye.
2) Size. This is what today's bird sighting reminded me of--the building I work at is situated slightly oddly, at the very edge of a small industrial park that nestles up to a wildlife sanctuary. Which means that there are office buildings on three sides...and the window right outside my desk looks down onto a parking lot right next to open wilderness and a river beyond. There are twenty-three wild turkeys milling around the parking lot, any one of which would easily come up to my knee. They're not particularly pretty birds (although again, their head provides a vivid contrast to the gray-black pavement) but man, are they impressive to watch. They're just bigger than you feel a bird should be allowed to be, and you feel a little bit of that primal connection between birds and dinosaurs as you watch them strut around.
3) Propensity for violence. The Twin Cities has a thriving raptor population that has figured out that streetlights make much better perches than tree branches. They're taller, they support the bird's weight better, and they don't have any branches to obscure vision. So on just about any drive through the city, spaced roughly every two to three miles (raptors are territorial birds) you can see a red-tailed hawk watching for prey, or sometimes if you're very lucky a peregrine falcon or a bald eagle (the latter are more common around the Mississippi River). Again, right outside my window I frequently spot small flocks of turkey vultures, lazily surfing the updrafts and keeping an eye out for something they can scavenge. They're astonishingly beautiful birds, even the turkey vultures; their smooth, sleek lines make them look like they're swooping even when they're standing still, and occasionally you'll see one dive with amazing speed and come up with a small mammal gripped in their talons.
There are obviously a few birds that score in multiple categories--hummingbirds, for example, while tiny, get multipliers for color and propensity to violence (plus their speed makes them eye-catching in their own unique way). But for the most part, when you see me stop in amazement at a bird, it's either big or bright or a sleek hunter. I feel very privileged that I get to stop in amazement so often.