Right Outside My Door (Posted 12 July 2018)
After my own breakfast, bright-and-early each day, my custom is to then prepare the same for the little ones—the squirrels and the birds in my backyard. The squirrels, especially, seem to be very appreciative of the sunflower seeds I always spread out for them. This is their favorite food, of which they are always very abundantly provided. They love the seeds! I can say that I would not be surprised if, one morning, when I step outside my back door, I find a neat stack of three pine cones, along with a small note, which will read something like:
“Is this enough for you to buy us some more of our favorite sunflower seeds?”
I would know right away who this was from—the “Bushy-Tailed Little Ones!” They can be very charming.
This is not always the case, however, when a bunch of them come to eat the seeds that I put out for them each morning on the circular patio. Some of them can be a little “selfish” and will try to chase the others away, so they can have the seeds all for themselves. It is amusing to watch this through my window. The “selfish” one will chase away the closest one—who always runs in a big circle and immediately comes right back to a slightly different, and sometimes even better, part of the feeding spot!
Over time, however, everyone seems to eat their fill, and some of them—whose mothers, no doubt, taught them to always clean their plates—move over to the other half of the circle to laboriously eat even all the tiny bird seeds that I also put out each morning. Luckily, they never completely succeed in “cleaning their plates,” and quite a bit is left for the tiny Feathered-Ones, who also stop by. These are considerably more friendly to each other, and even to the Bushy-Tails. They seem to have been taught to share—the doves, the chickadees, the sparrows, the cardinals, and all the rest. They will even eat side-by-side with the squirrels. The cardinal couples are especially sweet to watch: the brilliant-red male will fly up to the post feeder, get a beak-full of seeds, and then hurriedly fly down to his female mate, who is waiting on the ground, and very conscientiously feed her, before going back up for another beak-full of seeds and repeating this. Would that all couples were so thoughtful!
One morning, for the first time, I noticed a small, attractive black bird, with glistening feathers, that had joined the others, first feeding down on the ground and then even visiting the feeder above. This Feathered-One, whom I later identified as a Brown-Headed Cowbird, was a newcomer to the breakfast buffet—I had never before seen one of these in the yard. He may have been just passing through, as there certainly are no cows in my yard, perhaps having gotten a little off-course from where he was going, and decided to check out the local café when hunger overtook him. He very politely ate and then flew on. Recently, however, I have seen quite a number of these, both male and female, feeding—apparently, the first one gave a good recommendation to the others. The males have a very soft and sweet little sound, when they have something to say. I learned, later on, that this species is not very well liked by its neighbors!
Of course, the Feathered-Ones also have their own feeder, perched atop a tall post, with a baffle attached. This is, apparently, considered a “choice”—perhaps “high-class”—restaurant for them, complete with copper roof and seating for at least six. They know that this is theirs alone, high above the bushy-tails and out of their reach. Occasionally, one of the bushy-tails will look up from the ground at this feeder and seem to ponder why he should not just go up there to get more food. However, it is very cute to watch them, as they unfailingly come to the realization that they cannot climb up the post, due to the baffle—which certainly lives up to its name.
The Feathered-Ones are very early risers! They are at the feeding circle even before it is comfortably light out for me to see. Often, I can just barely make out, visually, that there are a bunch of them on the ground, already expecting the morning’s breakfast. They, apparently, always have a busy day ahead of them and are eager to have breakfast and go.
This is somewhat different for the squirrels, who always seem to dislike getting up too early. They like to wait until it is a little bit lighter. Then, I can see them coming down their trees, from their nests high in the swaying branches, having heard the familiar sounds that indicate to them that their breakfast has been spread out for them. Occasionally, when I step outside, one of them, who, perhaps, is a bit too hungry to wait any longer, is sitting and waiting on a branch lower to the ground, hoping his or her anticipation will cause me to come out early.
I have wondered what it would be like to live in these high nests. Some of them are almost at the very top of the trees, with not too much cover over them. The swaying of the branches must be quite soothing and lulling, if not unnerving! I am certain, though, that Mother Nature has given the bushy-tails all the information they need to build a safe nest so high up and on such relatively thin branches. Personally, I think I would be very much afraid of the Cooper’s Hawks, that often circle around over them.
On my walk today, I spotted the nest of one bushy-tail, that was in the crook of a branch, right where it joins the main trunk. It was quite a well-constructed nest, and, to my surprise, there was even a miniature garden of small plants growing on one edge of the nest—their own window-box! This little one has a very cozy and pleasant dwelling, indeed!
Crows (Posted 16 July 2018)
I always find encounters with members of the crow clan both interesting and amusing—sometimes, even surprising! Crows are incredibly abundant where I live, and probably everywhere else, and I am always struck by the extreme social nature of them. It is very rare that I see one lone crow happily entertaining himself. Almost always, they are in groups of at least three or four, and usually many more, going about things that crows do—which usually involves making quite a racket. When I listen to them, I am impressed by their vocabulary and by the fact that their simple calls are communicating their thoughts and feelings to each other very clearly and effectively. I wish I were able to interpret and understand what their sounds mean, whether it’s the usual “caw-ing” or, especially, a sound that I have just recently noticed them making, which is rather like a loud “purring” sound. This last sound intrigues and surprises me very much, as it is quite akin to the sound that cats make! Whether it’s the crow sound for contentment, as in cats, or for frustration, I don’t know. But, I think that most of the time their conversation centers around “Here I am! I’m right here! Where are you? Who else is here!” This seems to be very important for them—knowing that they are not alone.
Crows are extremely intelligent and resourceful beings. On the surface, however, they usually give just the opposite impression and often strike me as being just large, rather simple and unassuming, unsophisticated and somewhat bumbling. This is what makes them so fascinating to me. They are like a person, who is endowed with a high-degree of skill and intelligence, and who knows it, and has no reason to consciously flaunt it. When we do witness an example of their cleverness, the contrast with their outer image makes it that much more striking. For example, quite a few years ago, I had a garden in my backyard and, in the interest of bird hygiene, I installed a nice birdbath. For some reason, I had followed advice to sprinkle mothballs throughout the garden to deter some long-forgotten pest. One day, looking out the window to the garden, I watched one crow land on the ground, pick up a mothball in his beak, and then fly up to sit on the rim of the birdbath. He then dunked the mothball in the water and proceeded to lift each wing alternately and rub the wet mothball in his “armpits” or, rather, “wing-pits!” I could not believe what I was seeing, but he repeated this ritual more than once. Finally, apparently satisfied that he had applied enough deodorant for now, he dropped the mothball and flew off—confident that he would not offend anyone! Where did he learn this? How did he “know” that a wet mothball had any use to him? And why, specifically, under his wings? I will probably never know the answers, but I certainly have remembered his innate ingenuity.
As intelligent as crows are, they are also very wary and suspicious. At times, when I have old and stale bread on hand, I will cut it into small cubes to put out specifically for the crows to eat, as the squirrels seem to consider mere bread beneath them. The crows seem very appreciative of bread of any sort—even, to my amusement, a stale pre-packaged pizza crust cut into cubes! This they ate with much relish—perhaps, it’s not often they get Italian food for lunch. Regardless of the type of bread, the cubes are usually gone in a flash, after one crow very cautiously approaches them, ready to fly away in an instant, should the cubes threaten him, and then finds out that they are both safe and tasty. He then announces to his crow-mates that they should come and eat—which quickly results in him being joined by four or five others. They are comical to watch, as they pick up cube after cube in their beaks, sometimes five or six at a time, and then fly off to a nearby branch to enjoy their feast. I find their behaviour quite admirable—an example, perhaps, for us to be happy and satisfied with a simple and familiar food such as bread!
© 2018 Charles David Rushbrook. All rights reserved.