Birds of a Feather

Dan Greaney’s Bird Words Book…

What Dan Greaney doesn’t know about birds could probably fit in a sparrow’s beak. Much of what he does know is featured in his recently published book, “BirdWords,” a collection of his columns from the Redding Record Searchlight. In his book, Greaney shares a wealth of information about the winged creatures. Here are a few nuggets:

Jody and Dan Greaney. Photos courtesy of Dan Greaney.
  • A favorite spot for swallows to build their mud nests is the underside of the Sundial Bridge.
  • A hummingbird’s hovering speed is 70 wing beats per second – not per minute, per second. 
  • A mockingbird will learn up to 200 different songs in its lifetime.
  • Quails organize themselves into multi-family “coveys” that can number in the hundreds. In these coveys the parent birds share child-rearing duties, and the males take turns as sentinels watching out for predators. 
  • Clark’s nutcrackers, who live on pine nuts, routinely cache 30,000 of them in preparation for winter. 

Greaney, who’s 67, retired two and a half years ago from teaching middle school in Redding, and now lives in Eureka with his wife Jody, who’s also a retired teacher and avid birder. During his nearly three decades in Redding, Greaney was not only a dedicated birder but also played a leading role in the local Audubon society, serving as its president and recruiting volunteers for the society’s annual bird counts. Once a month, on Saturdays, he led groups of parents and kids out into the fields for birdwatching adventures.

Photos courtesy of Dan Greaney

Over the years, he developed a reputation among fellow birders for his unusual ability to identify a wide range of the region’s birds. “If you went out birding with Dan you’d see a lot more than if you went out alone,” says George Horn, another veteran birder. “His powers of observation are incredible.”

Photos courtesy of Dan Greaney

“You go out for an hour of birding with Dan and it can easily turn into four hours,” says his wife Jody.
Greaney’s love for birds is apparent in his lyrical, sometimes poetic, descriptions of their traits and habits. Herons and egrets step slowly “with ballet precision and pointed intent.” The “mellow refrain” of mourning doves “sounds not so much like a complaint as a homage to beauty.” Cattails are “maestros of the marsh . . . quintessential and versatile singers.” Cedar waxwings are “as sociable as a happy holiday.”

Photos courtesy of Dan Greaney

In his book, Greaney points to the loss of roughly one-third of North American bird populations over the past half-century, due to habitat loss, burgeoning feral cat populations, climate change and the presence of toxins in the soil and air. But, as Greaney points out, there are some simple things we all can do to help arrest the decline in bird populations. We can, for example, keep our cats in the house and put less carbon in the atmosphere, slow down climate change, by driving less and choosing cars with greater fuel efficiency.

Photos courtesy of Dan Greaney

Greaney’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. “For me as for so many of us, birds are beautiful,” he says in the forward to his book. “In color, form and behavior, they are fascinating for nearly anyone who observes them thoughtfully.”

After reading “BirdWords” you just might find yourself grabbing a pair of binoculars and heading out for the nearest field or marsh. And, thanks to Greaney, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to look for. “BirdWords” sells for $19.95 and can be ordered from Living Gold Press at •

About Tim Holt

Tim is a longtime journalist, the editor of the quarterly Northwest Review, and the author of “On Higher Ground,” a futuristic novel set in the Mount Shasta region. He lives in Dunsmuir, and is an avid cyclist and hiker.

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