Birds!

Most folks love to see a little wildlife in the garden. Some might adopt and feed a visiting squirrel, a friendly chipmunk, or smile at a fuzzy cottontail eating clover or they might design their garden mainly for butterflies and other pollinators. I wish no harm on 4-legged furry animals but do not encourage visits by squirrels, chipmunks, or rabbits. Butterflies and most insects are very welcome.

This handsome black squirrel is a regular visitor but I rather he visit someone else.

Black Squirrel 2019

Handsome black squirrel looking for bird food

I want it to go elsewhere because it interferes with my favorite garden visitors…. the birds.

I put several bird feeders out during the day and remove them at night due to visits from bears in this area. Suet, seeds, grape jelly, and nectar hang here and there during daylight hours.

Did you know that $quirrels love all of those food$? One $quirrel can knock every feeder to the ground and poli$h everything off while you are making a quick da$h to the grocery $tore. 💰

In a light rain yesterday morning I took my first cuppa joe on the deck beneath the umbrella to watch the antics of our early feathered friends.

As wet as this small hummer was, he remained on guard, throat blazing red, watching for intruders at three hummingbird feeders. We could supply a nice flock with the mega amount that we make for them but still… he wants it all for himself and some females. But the neighborhood boys have developed a system to feed.  An intruder diverts the boss’s  attention away from the feeder while another male zooms in for a quick feed. They all get a share this way but it’s exhausting to watch.

Ruby Throated Hummer 2019

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird in the rain

I’m fighting a losing battle with Mother Nature by inviting only one species to visit but I come by birding naturally. First my mother was an avid birder and now all my sibs and their spouses are of one mind. We send photo back and forth, we announce rare or unusual bird visits to one another, we solicit ID verification, and we group marvel at bird antics. The interest in my family has trickled down to offspring, some of whom can ID better than I can. Even young grandchildren have a growing interest. Our 5-yr. old granddaughter spent the night with us recently and excitedly pointed out the different birds and action in the garden. And, of course… I encouraged her.

American goldfinch 2019

American Goldfinch

Oh, the catbirds are probably my favorite bird to watch in a yard setting. They are handsome, friendly, funny, and sing the most varied songs in the garden…. and, boy, do they love grape jelly! Even when the heavens opened and rain became heavy yesterday, the cats were still taking turns at the jelly bar.

Gray Catbird 2019

Gray Catbird and grape jelly

The jelly is watched over by different catbird families from separate territories who ordinarily quarrel among themselves, but when the jelly supply is being threatened by orioles, squirrels, chickadees, or by hungry woodpeckers (below), they band together and squawk at the intruder. It never works. Their bark is worse than their bite and everyone sips at the bar.

Three catbirds and a hairy woodpecker 2019

Three catbirds squawk at a woodpecker approaching the jelly bar

Before I escaped the rain and ran for cover indoors, the last visitor I saw at the jelly was one of the neighborhood orioles. We have two nesting pairs nearby who are regulars here. Their young must be becoming more independent by now. Fingers crossed that they bring their offspring to sample the jelly before they migrate south in the next few weeks.

Baltimore Oriole 2019

Baltimore Oriole at the jelly bar

That was just a sampling of the birds that entertained me in the rain yesterday. Once an avid birder, I still consider myself a birder although no more all-day Audubon bird counts or birding field trips these days. However, you’ll never find me far from my good birding binoculars and my well-worn Sibley Field Guide to Birds.

A Backyard Whodunit….

We have six hummingbirds at the feeder now. They eat a lot less than the dozens of hummers at my Virginia feeders so only one feeder is needed. All hummingbird feeders have small bee guards on the openings to prevent insects from crawling into the nectar. A few mornings ago I noticed two of the bee guards were missing. The next morning, another of the guards was gone. The birds were left with three gaping holes from which to feed and one bee guard. This is an obvious sabotage from some creature. But who or what could do this? Hmmm…..

The number one suspect is the squirrel. He’d been caught with his hands in the cookie jar many times.

So I moved the hummingbird feeder to the squirrel proof pole with the rest of the feeders. The hummingbirds didn’t seem to mind mingling with the larger birds and Mister Squirrel seems to be mystified by the baffle. In and out of the pole’s squirrel baffle he goes but has not yet found a way to the feeders. (He hasn’t given up so stay tuned for new tricks)

All was well for a day until I noticed the fourth bee guard missing. Jeepers! It wasn’t the squirrel after all! I quickly bought a second hummingbird feeder and organized a round-the-clock stakeout with camera in hand for the other. The hummers migrated to the new feeder and I watched the old feeder. It didn’t take long before the culprit appeared. Click…click…click….click.

A beautiful Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) has claimed this nectar as his own. He’s the one who pulled off the bee guards, quite common I read, and he drains a feeder in a day and a half. We are delighted. Oranges and a new oriole feeder go up today. We believe Mister Oriole arrived on June 1, ahead of female orioles, to stake out the best territory for his lady. We are waiting and watching for her.

The Icterids are a group of birds, mostly black, often with splashes of yellow, orange or red. This group includes the bobalink, meadowlawks, and red-wing blackbirds that we see breeding and nesting across the meadow surrounding this property. Matter of fact, we have seen these two ‘cousins’ coming face to face atop the feeding station, each going to different feeders. Birdwatching sure is fun and full of surprises!

Baltimore Oriole and Red-Wing Blackbird

I’m Getting Soft…

As a youngster, I watched my father stand at the window watching squirrels that were on the bird feeder watching him. “They’re nothing but rats with fuzzy tails….,” he mumbled. Gee, I thought those were harsh words. I liked the little fellas, their tails flicking and chat-chat-chat sounds as they spotted the frowning enemy looming large at the window. Like so many people around the world, my dad spent years trying to outsmart squirrels that depleted his costly sunflower seeds. Of course, nothing worked. Don’t you know you can’t outsmart a squirrel?

Later in life, when I began to feed my own birds, I was amused by the antics of those silly squirrels that seemed to jump extreme distances or drop from unseen places in trees or travel upside down on wires to reach my feeders. That feeling of amusement lasted… ummmm…. about 2 years when it was replace by annoyance… then exasperation… then anger.

Maybe it was the cost of the good bird seed I bought or maybe it’s simply in our genes but somehow I picked up my father’s quest to outsmart the rodents that raided the feeders. No longer were they cute little squirrels. They are rodents… rodents that now look at me, tails flicking with their chat-chat-chats as they view the enemy looming large in the window from their perch in the middle of my feeder. I am my father after all.  It doesn’t help that one lab hates them and guards the feeders. These squirrels wear watches. They know the dog’s schedule. When the dogs come inside, the squirrels immediately appear and have a party. I hear them on the roof. The trees quiver with activity. They walk by the windows and stand up to look at me just inches away. A taunt? Yes, I think so.

For more years that I can count, I have declared war on feeder-raiding squirrels but when I visited my daughter in Maine last week, I was amazed that she was at peace with her squirrels. Like I once was, she is amused by the antics of her squirrels. They do not eat her sunflower seeds. What’s the secret? “Roasted peanuts in the shell,” she said. The squirrels have their own feeder and they adore roasted peanuts. Her costly oil sunflower seed is close by in a platform feeder. They’re not interested in the bird feeders or the suet.  She purchases unsalted roasted peanuts for human consumption, not raw peanuts in the pet store.  So now I’m home and I’m attempting to declare my own truce with these squirrels.  I’ve placed roasted nuts on the ground and watched the squirrels. They’re still unsure of my intentions and nervously watch me as they ‘steal’ a nut and run away to eat it.  But, hey, they do love this new diet and for the past week, the peanut solution has worked. No squirrels on the bird feeders.  I do mix raw peanuts and a little corn with the roasted peanuts just because I think raw peanuts have more nutrients. I am humane! Stay tuned.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester