Archive for Thursday, July 30, 2009

Feeders are for the birds

July 30, 2009

Our backyard sometimes resembles a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock film. Remember “The Birds” from 1963? The movie featured Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette and Tippi Hedren. In the movie, gangs of suicidal birds wreak havoc on Bodega Bay, a small coastal town north of San Francisco.

There are spooky scenes in the movie where the crazed birds are momentarily quiescent, sort of cooing and rustling their feathers, like they’re ready to attack. I’m reminded of those scenes these days when I venture outside.

What happened, you see, was that we decided to start feeding the birds in the neighborhood. This is one of those things where you look back at your life and you can see where your life changed.

A couple of years ago we installed a bird feeder on the deck out back. It’s one of those tube things, about 18 inches long, with six feeding stations. What kind of birds come to it depend mostly on what’s in it, but because of its size and the distance between the perches and the holes where the birds can get the seeds that fill it, it’s really meant for smaller birds. Around here, that seems to mean finches. At least, they’re the most numerous.

Feeding birds is like any other hobby. It starts out as sort of a passing interest, but it becomes more consuming and more interesting the more time and effort (and, need I say it, money?) you put into it.

So, a hummingbird feeder went up along with the tube feeder. (I have it on good authority that there are a number of these fascinating little dynamos about; suffice it to say, however, that the vast majority of them have either missed our feeder or they’re sneaking in when no one’s watching.)

Then one time when I visited the shop where I buy a lot of my supplies last fall, I noticed a pole system that allows you to hang several feeders on it. When it came time for suggestions for Christmas gifts I mentioned this, and in the end Santa was kind to me and I got it. I put it up this spring, and added a few feeders.

I also transplanted a couple of wildflowers into the patch of earth beneath the feeder. I also planted some seeds for Coneflowers and Black-Eyed Susans and such but so far all that’s come up have been weeds that look like the other weeds growing in various places around the yard. Of course wildflowers, in their natural setting, are sort of like weeds anyway, so I’m reserving judgment on that for a while yet.

And then of course we added a bird bath. It doesn’t seem to get much use, but it’s in a location where it’s impossible to see from inside, so maybe they’re down there splashing around surreptitiously. I don’t know.

But the big story this summer has been the original tube feeder that we put up several years ago. For some reason this summer the birds have clustered around this feeder like it had gold or something.

Occasionally we’ll see a red-winged blackbird or a grackle or some other visitor, but mostly it’s finches. We see mixtures of purple finches (I don’t know why they’re called “purple”; they look red to me), American goldfinches and house finches.

They are ravenous eaters. It’s not uncommon to have five or six perched on the feeder at a time, with another half-dozen or more in the crabapple tree nearby, or roosting on the swing on the deck. I have to refill the feeder each day, requiring weekly trips to the store.

I believe what is happening here is that the birds are getting ready to begin nesting and are chowing down to build up strength for the season when they’ll have less time for forage, being occupied with building nests and raising their young.

Meanwhile, the birds continue to congregate. Thoughts of “The Birds” aside, there have been no attacks. Nevertheless I always keep a weather eye on the crabapple tree when I go out to refill the feeder each morning. If ever anyone finds me sprawled on the deck, with my eyes pecked out, you’ll know what happened.

— John Beal is the retired editor of The Explorer’s sister publications The Shawnee Dispatch and Bonner Springs Chieftain

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