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Spring seems to have seriously sprung over the last few weeks. We’ve got the rain and the warm temperatures that hurry the process along, and it’s to the point where, like it or not, we’re going to have to get the lawn mowers and weed whackers tuned up.
One might think that with the warmer weather it would be time to put the feeders away for the summer but it seems that there are more birds than ever showing up for their share of the free sunflower seeds and cracked corn I’ve been putting out since last fall.
In the past week I’ve seen a shift from primarily chickadees and nuthatches to a wide variety of “summer” birds showing up. In just the last few days I’ve had bluebirds, evening grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, phoebes and starlings as visitors. Had I not seen both a bluebird and a phoebe take a sunflower seed and run with it I might have thought they were just hanging around waiting to pick up a mosquito or two. Those species are not often considered to be seed eaters, but they were here and they took seeds with them, so there goes that little bit of common knowledge.
Perhaps it’s spring fever or maybe it’s just karma but for some reason I’m seeing so-called wild “enemies” filling their faces side by side nearly every day.
One of the oddest pairings was a flock of turkeys and half-dozen crows, all feeding shoulder to shoulder on the ground beneath the feeders outside my office window. It’s well known among turkey hunters that the best way to locate an unseen gobbler is to let loose with a couple of loud, harsh blasts on a crow call. The theory is that crows eat turkey eggs and so turkeys hate crows, and it is true that turkeys will respond to a crow call 90 percent of the time. However, lately I’ve observed turkeys and crows sharing the bird seed without discord – sometimes the crows were close enough to touch the tails of the fidgety turkeys.
Another interesting match was crows and gray squirrels. Both are gluttonous, bold and aggressive but lately they seem to be unusually tolerant of each other.
I put my sunflower seed down in a long, straight pile so more ground-feeders can come in and get their share, which may have something to do with all this wildlife camaraderie. The crows will be on one end of the pile and the squirrels will be on the other end, both species cautiously picking through the pile with one eye on other.
One very odd couple I spotted recently was a gray fox (which lives under the old chicken coop) and a gray squirrel. These two, by rights, should be mortal enemies, but apparently when there is plenty of food available the omnivorous fox will fill up on sunflower seeds and the squirrel will be safe for another day.
Oddly enough, while all these species combinations seem to get along just fine, when it’s just squirrels or turkeys or blue jays they bicker with and harass each other constantly even though there’s enough food out there to keep them all fat and happy.
Even though racism is not an approved attitude among humans it certainly seems to be rampant among the wild things. For example, when my local flock of goldfinches decides to swoop in for a meal they drive every other bird away. The same goes for the sparrows, blue jays and juncos – no tolerance at all for other species.
It’s a tad early yet but the kings of agitation, the hummingbirds, take the cake when it comes to selfish behavior. Even though I put out more than a gallon of nectar in four different feeders these manic little mites spend most of their day trying to drive every other hummer from the area. At times I will sit by the window with my binoculars and watch as the dominant hummingbird sits on his perch nearby, eyeing the feeder like a hawk. Whenever another hummer shows up for a sip of nectar Mr. Big swoops in and attacks. It really is surprising how aggressive and territorial these little birds are, and they keep it up all day. Near dusk they will come in, one by one, and drink their fill for the night, but during the day they are constantly at odds with each other.
Overall, the most tolerant, polite and efficient guests at the feeder are the chickadees. If another bird is on the feeder the chickadees will wait their turn, and when they get the chance they are in and out, quickly taking one seed and flying off to a nearby branch to crack it open. No fighting, no bickering, and no selfishness – we could all take a lesson from the chickadees!
The rest of the birds are remarkably sloppy and greedy at the feeder. The goldfinches, blue jays and evening grosbeaks are definitely the worst. They come in with a flutter that scatters seed all over the porch, and then they dig and pick through the seed as if they were interested only in the biggest ones at the bottom of the pile. Of course, once they claim the feeder no one else is allowed to share. Do we get our bad habits from them or theirs from us? I’m not sure how the train of evolution goes from species to species but the similarities are remarkable!
What brought all this on? I was observing a rose-breasted grosbeak (a pretty black-and-white grosbeak with a splash of rosy red on its breast) that turned up at the feeder a few days ago. He ate every seed he picked up, tolerated the other birds’ comings and goings and neither wasted any seed or caused any trouble. He was like the old guy at the end of the counter at the local diner – in and out, eat and go, no muss, no fuss. Confident and focused, he ate his fill and then spent the rest of the day perched in the upper limbs of the oak in the dooryard, no bother to anyone.
If only we could all be as charitable!
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