To seed, perch-chance, to dream
Friday January 01st 2010, 12:04 am
Filed under: Family,Wildlife

When I was a kid, we came home from a trip out West one summer with a few Sugar Pine cones, part of my dad’s childhood, exotic in our own, and a delight ever after as a fireplace decoration and a bit of home to him.

And so it was with great delight of my own that I explained the backstory to Sam when we spotted them on the sale table at the Wild Bird Center today:  monstrous cones, slathered in suet and rolled in black-oil sunflower seeds to feed woodpeckers and the like, with a loop of twine glued to the end for hanging.  Sugar Pines!

I’ve spotted a ladderback in my yard a few times. They are huge, glorious black and white-striped woodpeckers that I would love to see closer up.  This might do the trick.  I bought one.

I had just the one spot where the squirrels were already trained to stay away from (and they d0.  So far.  Hoping this doesn’t–well, I’ll find out, won’t I?)  I hung the cone in the middle of the twiggy branch by the feeder.

It’s been interesting watching the little bird brains at work.

The squirrels ignored the whole thing. So far so good.

The house finches have always been feisty. They want the highest perch on the feeder and are often fighting their way up, then swirling off in a flurry of feathers and feet in a downwards figure eight pattern if another bird won’t give way fast enough.  When the seed level drops below the highest perch, they’ll still peck and threaten to get to the top and be king of the mountain, then fight their way back down to where they can actually eat.  Their position often means more to them than their food, and they will hang on when they’re done, loathe to give up a prime spot, till another one gets fed up with waiting and lets them know it.  Beat it! (Maybe it’s just their way of training me to pour in more seed.)

Meantime, the chickadees will hold back, coming and landing on the twig if it looks like there might be an opening soon.  They watch.  They wait.  Then when the finches fight their way off and let go, they’ll dart in, grab just one seed, and dash off to the trees to crack it open and eat in peace.  They know where all the openings are; they can gauge when a spot on the far side, out of their sight, is suddenly accessible and they’ll go for it fast.  They are bright little birds.

They never fight.  They don’t care if they have to hang upside down to reach what they want. They’re acrobats. And they are fearless.

And so it was this afternoon that this monstrous, you never know, this *thing,* it could be an owl, you know!, suddenly appeared by the feeder.

I wondered how long it would take the birds to get used to it.

The often-bullying finches were having none of it.

Then a chickadee went, hey, I know a sunflower seed when I see one! It landed on the twig and hopped right over to the pine cone.  It IS! And nobody else is around!  It pulled out a seed–and this time, for once, it didn’t fly straight away.  It had the thing entirely to itself and it knew it.  Nirvana!  It had lived for this day! It reached for a second. Then a third.  It did a chickadee dance for joy, running up and down the twiglets, checking it out here and there.  Coooool!

Eventually, the finches started coming; just one. Then another. But–they flew towards the feeder, pulled up at the last moment, then did this fancy dance in the air: yes! No! Yes! No! Yes! NO!!! and at the last darted away. Over and over and over, one, then a whole flock all at once.  They wanted that feeder.  They wanted that food.  They just couldn’t quite brave that horrendous risk.  They expended a ton of energy flying close but away, not daring to land.

The sun got lower, and you could tell they wanted dinner. Finally after yet another chickadee had landed by the cone–the chickadees had all ignored the feeder from the moment they’d discovered that cone–five finches went phew! and came at last.

But when the chickadee was done, they fled fast in a fright.

The whole afternoon, not a one landed if there wasn’t a stripey-headed little chestnut-backed chickadee announcing the coast was clear.  Not a one tried out the cone.

Score one for the little guys.

p.s. Happy New Year, and safe flying, Sam!

8 Comments so far
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What fun! I’m glad you found that special treat, even if it served more as a beacon than food – so far.

Comment by Channon 01.01.10 @ 8:22 am

As you’ve discovered, birds are fun to watch! A Happy New Year to you and the family!

Humor –

The man with a broken hand, sitting in the orthopedic surgeon’s office, couldn’t think of the medical term for his scheduled procedure. “Excuse me,” he said to the physician’s assistant, “but what’s the term doctors use for setting a broken bone?” The assistant answered, “Billable procedure.”

Comment by Don Meyer 01.01.10 @ 12:54 pm

Just in from shovelling the driveway which took waaay longer than it should have due to the antics of a flock of Cedar Waxwings cleaning off the rowan. Birds that look like ornaments in the evergreens – such a gift of joy.

Comment by Joan 01.01.10 @ 3:18 pm

I absolutely loved this post because my day today was about birds and chickadees in particular. I hope to blog about it later but not sure how the pictures are. Thanks for sharing the story.

Comment by Joansie 01.01.10 @ 5:19 pm

How fortunate you are to have birds! Even our local newspaper has reported the lack of our usual avian visitors this winter. We have juncos, some blue jays, 4 cardinals, a couple of woodpeckers and the ubiquitous mourning doves; we are waiting for finches, nuthatches, black capped chickadees and tufted titmice. Nobody knows where they are and all the birders are walking around puzzled. It’s strange and sad to not need to fill the feeders every day.

Enjoy them and have a happy and healthy 2010!

Comment by Leslie 01.01.10 @ 5:25 pm

I don’t knit, nor do I know the slightest thing about it, but the reason I read your blog is because you write things like this. The first paragraph alone is one lovely group of words. You have a way, Alison. You have a way.

Comment by Momo Fali 01.02.10 @ 2:14 pm

We’ve been enjoying our birds, too. But how did you train squirrels to keep away? We did discover that they aren’t crazy about burnt waffles, at least until the temperature falls below zero!

Comment by twinsetellen 01.03.10 @ 1:59 pm

I hope Sam had a safe flight as well. 🙂

As for the birds, I suppose they too can have the problem to choose, huh? hihihi

Comment by Suzanne in Mtl 01.04.10 @ 7:25 am

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