Monday, February 19, 2007

Who's Who at the Bird Feeder

Some days, I think we provide a free breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet to more visitors than some of the Las Vegas hotels!

This month, with a 6 inch snow and ice cover, our birdfeeder is getting a lot of business. At the sunflower seed feeder, we have house sparrows, juncos, a Carolina Wren and a Cardinal pair. The sparrows and juncos come to the feeder, but also congregate underneath in the boxwood hedge, while the Carolina Wren and the Cardinals wait, perched on nearby trees for a space at the feeder. Surprisingly, the Cardinals are shy birds, and are often driven off by other, smaller birds.

The cardinals had a bumper brood last summer, and in August we had 6 or 8 adolescent cardinals coming around. You could tell they were adolescent- they wore thier feathers in unique disarray, and they weren't always graceful. They made me laugh every time I saw them. The young ones have struck out on their own now, and only one pair of adults remains; I assume it is the original pair.

The squirrels didn't bother the sunflower seeds feeder very much until this month, but a pair of nicely plump ones have been making inroads into the sunflower seeds. Usually a sharp knock on the kitchen widow scares the squirrels away, at least for a few minutes. My mother, who lives on a lake, has tried almost every kind of squirrel proof feeder with no luck. She finally resorted to trapping them in a live trap, and rowing them across the cove to release them. I decided to try a bribe.

I remembered that I had some ornamental corn left over from decorating a dinner last fall. The corn was still on the cob, and after I removed the husks, I tossed the corn out onto the snow near the blue spruce trees at the back of the yard. We'll see if that helps keep the squirrels away from the feeder. Perhaps if the squirrels don't like the corn, the rabbits or voles will.

We also have 2 suet feeders, and a Northern Mockingbird stuffs herself there daily. She (or he) also hangs around the hollybush, eating the hollyberries. I don't remember seeing mockingbirds in the winter before.

Earlier today, as I was watching out the window, a small Cooper's Hawk, or perhaps a Sharp Shinned Hawk flew in and sat in the beech tree. For the first time all day, the feeder and the backyard were empty; everyone went into hiding. I ran down to get the camera, but the hawk didn't stick around long enough to pose for me. We had a visit from a Harrier Hawk near the end of the summer. I have mixed feelings about seeing the raptors in the yard- they are beautiful to look at, and it is exciting to be able to see them so closely, but I hate to think I am providing a captive buffet for them! (Speaking of large raptors, a few weeks ago my older son looked out of his 2nd floor window in urban St. Louis and saw a bald eagle circling above the vacant lot behind him! I would have loved to have seen that!)

I'll start my robin watch soon. I thought everyone knew that seeing the first robin meant that spring had arrived, but last year I spoke to a young man who had never heard that piece of folk lore. I am always excited to see the first robin of the spring; it amazes me to see how they arrive so suddenly.
We haven't seen many chickadees this winter. The house finches were also missing from the feeder during the severe cold snap, but returned today, along with a pair of mourning doves and a blue jay.
If you are interested in keeping track of the birds that visit your feeder, check out Project FeederWatch

Garden notes- I planted 72 peat pots with leek seeds today. I want to get enough leeks to freeze and dry to use all next winter. To provide bottom warmth for the peat pots, I have the seed trays sitting on the waterbed in the spare bedroom. I discovered last year that this was a terrific way to start seeds. While I realize not everyone has a spare waterbed sitting around to use as a heat source, if you're one of the lucky ones who does, give it a try!

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