Posts Tagged With: bird feeder

Crying Fowl

This was too much.

At the bird feeder, we've welcomed blue jays, tolerated an oversized yellow-shafted flicker, and succumbed to the overstuffed charm of a persistent squirrel who is even now probably eating for three or four. But today was beyond what even the most generous sunflower-seed provider should have to put up with.

In the middle of the afternoon, I heard thumping outside the window of my office. It sounded as if a heavy body had plunked itself down in one of the metal chairs out there on the deck.

Someone had landed in one of the chairs, all right, but only to use it as a launching pad onto the railing of the deck. There the uninvited visitor was, perched in front of the bird feeder, helping itself. Okay, okay, I do realize that having birds come and eat at the bird feeder is sort of the general idea.

Except that this was a turkey. A relic of the Jurassic Age that had no business inviting its large, awkward, and ugly self onto our deck. It was busy gobbling food intended for birds that were much smaller, much needier, and, let's face it, much better looking.

I charged outside, broom in hand just in case my yelling needed any emphasis. It didn't. The invader scrambled off the deck, landed in the snow, and made turkey tracks. It hasn't been back—so far.

But this was the last straw. Or the last turkey in the straw. If it shows up again, I may have to replace my broom with a slingshot or a pellet gun and teach it an important lesson about manners and the English language.

There is more than one way to interpret the phrase, "stopping by our house for dinner."

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The Case of the Curious Sciurus

"Squirrels are amazing climbers." I know this statement is true, because I saw it on a poster in my granddaughter's room.

She had done a fourth-grade research project on squirrels, which according to the poster are among her favorite animals. She has plenty of opportunity to study them first-hand, living as she does in a neighborhood where oak trees spread a lavish squirrel-friendly buffet of acorns on every street corner.

I also know the statement is true because I have seen it myself. A squirrel can scamper up the post to our second-floor deck and dash across the railing to the bird feeder faster than you can say, "That bushy-tailed little varmint is out there again!"

Squirrels are amazing eaters, too. In only a few minutes, the one that raids our bird feeder can stuff its furry little face with enough sunflower seeds to have fed the chickadees and finches for a week. For a critter without opposable thumbs, it is certainly efficient at shoveling in the calories.

The family name for squirrels, sciurus, comes from the Greek words skia, or shadow, and oura, or tail. A squirrel, then, is a creature who sits in the shadow of its own tail.

Our bird-seed pillager, however, would need a little hair-weaving or at least some serious backcombing before its tail could cast a broad enough shadow to cover it. We have a photo of the squirrel, taken from behind as it crouches at the feeder. The only possible caption for the picture is, "Does this winter coat make my backside look big?"

An honest answer would be, "Yes, it certainly does. You're well-fed, squirrel. Face it, you're fat. Why don't you put yourself on a low-carb diet? I'm sure the Atkins plan for arboreal overeaters would work well for you. By the way, it doesn't allow any stolen sunflower seeds."

To the frustrated owner of the bird feeder and buyer of the vanishing sunflower seeds, this has become war. He already captured a previous munching moocher in a humane trap and hauled it off to a different part of town. It was a sweet victory—at least until two days later, when the replacement squirrel and current occupant showed up.

The trap is back out on the deck. By request, I even brought home a bag of acorns to serve as bait when I came back from a recent visit to the grandkids. So far, it hasn't worked. The squirrel seems to be more interested in sunflower seeds than acorns. Which makes sense, after all; they're probably much easier to shell.

But when he does catch the squirrel, maybe we could ship it off to my granddaughter. I'm sure her parents would believe us if we said it came from Santa Claus.

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Desperate House Finches

When we got a bird feeder last winter, I thought we were setting ourselves up for something refined, relaxing, and educational. Watching and identifying the pretty little birds that came to the feeder while we sat at the dining-room table over our own meals would be rather like reading National Geographic as one enjoyed one's tea and cucumber sandwiches.

The reality has been educational, all right, but not quite in the way I was expecting. I wasn't ready for all the drama. The preening and showing off. The bitter sibling rivalries. The violence. The raiding. The multi-generational sense of entitlement. It's like watching professional wrestling or Desperate Housewives.

When you get to know them, birds are like people at a crowded cafe who are loud, pushy, and have terrible table manners. They fight over spots at the feeder, chasing one another off and using appalling language. Finches tolerate other finches but go after the chickadees. None of the smaller birds come near when the blue jays are eating. Wrens do their best to slip in and out under the other birds' radar. All this brawling surely must use up more energy than they get from the few sunflower seeds they manage to snatch in between scuffles.

In the past few weeks, we've had an increase in activity at the feeder. This surprised me at first, given that there are insects, ripe berries, and ripening seeds all over the neighborhood. Then I came to realize that most of the visitors, though full sized, are obviously adolescents. Some of their adult features, like the blue jays' distinctive topknots, aren't quite developed yet. They still have a fuzzy look, as if their feathers aren't fully grown out—or as if they just got out of bed in their dormitories and didn't bother with grooming.

What do you do when Mom and Dad shove you out of the nest? Go to the nearest all-you-can-eat buffet, of course. Why go search for seeds, bugs, and berries if you don't have to? "Chokecherries? That's sooo last year! Bugs? Eeeuuew! You go to all that work to catch one, and it still tastes like slug on a stick."

That's when the awful truth hit me. We have created an avian welfare state. A whole generation of birds in our back yard is learning to count on a handout. This year's adults have taught their children to come to the feeder. And next year, when these young ones have children of their own, it will be a multi-generational welfare system. That's assuming any of them survive, given their inadequate food-gathering skills.

We could just stop feeding the birds during the summer. But somehow, once we've started, it's hard to quit. It would feel terribly mean to cut off the food supply they've grown used to. Besides, we'd miss the birds. They may count on us for food, but we count on them for entertainment. Even now, as I'm in my office, my background music has been the chirps, whistles, and squawks from the deck outside the open window.

So I guess we'll just have to buy a bigger bag of bird seed. We may have created a welfare system here, but it's a cycle of dependency that goes both ways.

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