BACKYARD VISITORS FROM THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

VIEW OF THE BIRDS, BIRD FEEDERS AND SUET NEXT TO OUR PATIO

Since – due to the the pandemic- we were not heading to Florida for the cold months, several decisions had to be made – some were of consequence, some not so much. As I have previously blogged, visible from our kitchen, we have for years had a hummingbird feeder hanging from a pole in the small garden area next to our patio. The feeder gives us much pleasure from early Spring till the cold of Fall. Ever since our son-in -law Paul introduced us to hummingbirds a number of years ago we have been hooked on these smallest of birds. When the hummingbirds leave we have left up the feeder until our Florida departure because “a” the feeder is attractive and “b” because “why not” – what else would we put there. A couple of Christmas times we did try replacing the feeder – putting on its pole a Christmas wreath which was appropriate during the Christmas season extending till early January when we left for Florida.

Now in pandemic time we decided we needed a more long term something to hang from the pole. And since the hummingbird feeder gave us so much pleasure why not try a regular bird feeder. In late October we hung the first feeder. Initially we moved the pole farther from the house thinking that if we wanted to attract some of the colorful birds who occasionally paid a visit to our yard, we couldn’t have the feeder too close to the house. Closeness to the house was not an issue for the hummingbirds but we thought it might be an issue for the bigger birds. After a slow start the word must have gotten out in the bird world that our yard was the place to come for good dining.The bird feeder got so much action that we felt we were missing out on not being able to see our bird visitors up close. In early November we bought a smaller feeder and put that next to the patio. We didn’t realize that that the cylindrical, supposedly squirrel resistant feeders -which might look alike – actually came with feeder apertures for different size birds. The second feeder we soon learned was for smaller birds. Now this feeder got so much action from the smaller birds, we decided to also move the first feeder to the patio garden so the bigger birds who were somewhat comically attempting to eat from the second feeder would leave that for the smaller birds. Closeness to our house was not an issue for any of the birds – big or small. We also added a suet feeder for the birds dining pleasure.

I like to think of last three months as our bird honeymoon period. We were treated to such an array of cardinals, bluebirds, yellow birds, wrens, woodpeckers and mystery birds whose names we didn’t know. Mystery birds led to our buying the Field Guide to the BIRDS OF EASTERN North America by National Geographic and the Field Guide Birds of Virginia – both excellent resources that have given us more background on the birds we recognize and help us to identify the birds we do not know.

I have always loved blue birds but could never attract them to our backyard. We even bought a special blue bird house that supposedly would entice the blue birds, but no luck. When the bird feeders went up the blue birds came. It made me wonder if there was some kind of life lesson that was to be learned from the arrival of the blue birds. When I wanted them so badly they never came. When I stopped focusing on them and just generally wanted to attract the bird population, they came. Seeing these beauties up close has been such a treat – their vibrant blue color stands out.

The only blight on our bird “honeymoon ” was the tenacious persistence of the squirrels as they worked to empty the feeders. Squirrels are incredibly athletic and persistent with an amazing ability to shimmy up the bird feeder pole. We have taken to greasing the poles. I must confess to a feeling of tremendous pleasure one afternoon when after a thorough pole greasing I looked out and saw a squirrel laboriously working his way up one of the poles and just as he reached the feeder, he slid down backwards. And then he just scampered away.

Toward the end of January our bird “honeymoon ” came to an end. The backyard was invaded by what we think are grackles – and more specifically – after consulting our reference books – the common grackle. They arrive in flocks, sometimes there are as many as twenty, descending on the two feeders and devouring all the seed in short order. In the past two weeks we have gone through a fifteen pound bag of wild bird seed. Not only are the grackle invasions pricy but they chase away the precious bird population that we have been enjoying so much.

Fortunately the grackles are very skittish – all we have to do is knock at the windows or start to open the kitchen door and they fly into our trees – waiting till they think the coast is clear. Now it is great that the grackles are so easily scared off but the problem is they are quick to come back. We could easily turn into full time grackle police as we work to retain our backyard bird sanctuary.

Part of life is making decisions about how we spend our time. As we get older time becomes even more precious. Standing guard against the grackles is not my ideal way to spend time. Life offers so many possibilities for time spending : being present to family and friends, church involvement, political involvement, playing golf and bridge, taking long walks, reading , writing – the list goes on. I like to ponder the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, ” Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant”.

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