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Sunday, January 20, 2019

This winter is for the birds

Maybe the birds know what’s coming better than we do. They seem to be more voracious than usual, at the bird feeder. I have a rather large lantern-style feeding station, and my troupe of chickadees and blue jays can empty that thing in just about forty-eight hours. I think that’s supposed to mean it’s going to be a long, cold winter. The birds know these things.
I have one feeder hanging on the side porch where the cats can watch from the window. I cleared them a spot on the side table where they sit and comment on the proceedings outside. The cats make a weird clucking noise when they see the birds. Sammy fell off the table today, startled by a jay that appeared to be flying straight for him. He gave me a dirty look as I laughed at him.
The other feeder is outside my kitchen window so I can watch the birds while I do dishes. On the window sill I have two small books: Peterson’s Field Guide of Eastern Birds, and the Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Birds of North America. When a new feathered friend pops up, I try to find them in the books.
I’m not much of a bird-watcher. I don’t go on bird-watching hikes or excursions or anything. I just like to know what is visiting my feeder. It used to be mostly blue jays and chickadees. Now I get the occasional rose-breasted grosbeak. It’s amazing how the sudden sight of an unfamiliar bird can take your breath away. Especially when it’s uniquely coloured, like the grosbeak, which appears to have received a splat of red paint on its chest by a painter’s wet brush.
A few weeks ago we had a family of yellow birds at the feeder. I’m going to suggest that they were some kind of warbler. I guess the next step in my bird-watching is to listen for the individual birdcall so that I can confirm my identifications.
This morning we had special guests, when a couple of cardinals stopped by the feeder. Their red feathers make a beautiful sight against the white backdrop of snow. When you see cardinals it’s supposed to mean you are being visited by the spirit of someone you lost. I’m not sure who came up with that idea but I think it’s a lovely sentiment. And we only see the red birds once or twice a season.
We seem to get different birds every year. That makes it interesting. I get tired of watching the blue jays bully the chickadees away from the feeder. And that idiot woodpecker is getting on my nerves. He has pecked open the side of the feeder so that the seeds leak out. Then he takes them and shoves them in a crack that he created in the wood trim under our bedroom window. Just make yourself at home, bird.
As the winter wears on and the birds come to rely on my feeders, I notice they are staking out their territory. The bigger birds are at the lantern feeder outside my kitchen window. The smaller chickadees are at the long tube feeder outside the cats’ window. This is undoubtedly the safer of the two feeders for the birds (despite the voyeuristic cats), because the other feeder is on the back porch. The neighbour’s cat, unlike my own pampered felines, doesn’t mind the cold. He leaps up onto the porch railing and sits rock still under the feeder, waiting for a feathered snack. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t fooled one yet. They keep their distance, squawking at him from the cedar tree until he gets bored or hungry and goes home.
The Farmer has a live trap for squirrels on the back porch. It’s right beside the feeder, where they are often spotted hanging out, stealing a snack. The other day I was working in the kitchen when I heard a rhythmic banging noise. I looked out the window and saw a blue jay, stuck in the live trap. I had to move quickly to save him before he damaged one of his wings. He was panicking, thrashing around in there.
The Farmer wasn’t very happy to see that I dismantled his live traps, but I can’t take the chance of a bird getting caught in there again. The long, cold Eastern Ontario winter is hard enough for them. I’m trying to make them as comfortable as possible.

 Image result for birds at winter feeder

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