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My friend Martin has sent me another missive from Michigan:

Watch Out for Those Birds


I never for a day gave up listening to the songs of our birds, or watching their peculiar habits, or delineating them in the best way I could.  James Audubon

We have had a lot of company this winter at the suet, thistle seed sock, and seed dispenser.  They come unannounced and when they darn well please—woodpeckers, chickadees, finches, blue jays, Juncos, nuthatches, titmice, Carolina wrens, sparrows, and unidentified others.  Early on, a blue jay had been the emcee, squawking out the morning replacement of the three items, stored overnight in the garage, necessitated by night visitors that ate everything.  He grew impatient if we were late because he fed on the droppings to the patio from the upstairs deck hangings. With the frigid weather, he gathered up his belongings and moved across the street for easier pickings.

Each morning we greet them lovingly and carry on a one sided chat about the weather forecast and yard conditions. Despite our affection, they rarely glance at us. These winter birds are not like our robins that work alongside as we plant and cultivate.  We are unsure of their loyalty even though they are full time tenants in our tree filled yard.  But we love their presence. I hope you love birds too.  It’s economical.  It saves going to heaven.  Emily Dickenson.

They come and go frequently in clusters showing me first manners to one another.  Up above, one finch and one sparrow often dine alone. They are older and mature, preferring to do without the peevish brashness and hullabaloo of the younger ones. We get a variety of woodpeckers.  The nine inch red headed woodpecker hammers and rocks away at the suet as if drilling through an oak knot.  He dines peaceably, ignoring the other birds.  Once he was challenged by a three crow gang.  They did not ask him nicely if they could have a turn at the suet but barged in.  He nailed each of them, never leaving his perch.

The eight finches are feisty birds frequently chasing one another off their sock perches and at other moments sharing space.  They are likely democrats.  The conservatives–titmice and nuthatches–in turn, chase everyone else away.  They defy gravity and pick out the suet and sock seeds upside down.  They are on a busy schedule preferring quick fly through to grab some seeds, crack them open along the way, and hurry back to the office.

One finch stakes out the bottom edge of the thistle sock.  She is pestered less there. Once after several snowy days, the sun broke out, and we spotted her asleep with her head tucked in a fold at the bottom.  But suddenly, a burst of wind jerked and rotated the sock.  She thrust her body out 45 degrees, peered about, and demanded, “Hey, who did that?”

Six sparrows eat most of the day at the four grain perches. They have little regard for the feelings of others and deliberately overuse their allotted times, necessitating the two waiting on the railing to launch head on attacks.  Toward the end of the day, four remaining ones, loaded down with seeds, doze and peer around from the perches.

On the patio below, the Juncos come in bevies of 8 to 10.   They swoop in at a steep angle much as if they were aiming for an aircraft carrier landing, except they frequently lose formation and tumble over one another.  They like the robustness of wrangling for what the upper deck diners spit out and drop serve to them. A couple are bona fide bullies, threatening anyone in their line of movement.  They are skittish.  At the least little stir or whim, one of them hollers, “Watch out!” and they roar away.  Ten seconds later, they return unconcerned that their spook was a spoof.  They must be republicans.

One older junco has learned that 99% of their sprints are unnecessary.  She eats steadily whether her cousins are present or fleeing.  Sometimes when she is full and letting the seeds settle down, she saunters over to the sliding glass door, cocks her head, peers in at us, and asks, “What’s up?”  She is a real lady at heart.

Occasionally, a Carolina Wren positions himself on the periphery of the feeding Juncos after satisfying himself at the suet.  He is brown on top with a white underbelly and a tail that protrudes upward 45 degrees.  His roly-poly, paunchy body gives the appearance that he suffered a head on and rear end collision simultaneously.  He does not eat with them or say anything.  He just watches for any villainy afoot and leaves when they do.  He is a down-to-earth shepherd.

We love these entertaining wild birds for their untiring antics. They do not bid us to walk them or change their litter boxes.  We use a blower to remove any residues.  They offer us comfort and serenity–God’s reward for our making it thus far.   

Did St. Francis preach to birds?  Whatever for?  If he really liked birds, he would have done better to preach to cats.  Rebecca West

So, all hail to our entertaining bird friends

Who feed, socialize, and combat without end.

If they came at appointed times,

And waited in set lines,

We would no longer watch them as godsends.


Martin Egelston

Battle Creek Enquirer   3/13/2014

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