When I first started feeding the birds, I thought I was doing it for them. I carefully and futilely chased the raider squirrels away and all but stood guard over the precious sunflower seeds.
Eventually, I gave up the fight after discovering that the squirrels are much more persistent, and much cleverer than I am. Bolder, too. After running up a tree in response to my arm-flailing, they sprawled on the branches and stared down at me as I shook my fingers at them and promised revenge. Then they returned as soon as I went back in the house.
Finally, I had a break-through. When a fat squirrel made a flying leap into the platform feeder and plopped his plump rump down for a full-course meal, I resigned myself. George offered to go out and chase him away, but I suddenly developed a new philosophy.
“I didn’t see any birds out there,” I told him. “First come, first served.”
That’s when I relaxed and began to see my bird feeders as indoor-outdoor home entertainment centers. No matter who comes to eat, I get the fun of watching animal antics.
Yesterday, I burst out laughing at a squirrel who was obviously feeling as enervated by the heat as I am. He was lying flat on his belly in the middle of the platform feeder, back legs sprawled, propped up on his elbows (do squirrels have elbows?) and eating the seeds he could scoop toward him without changing positions. The air against his belly, wafting through the platform screening, must have air-conditioned his personal little restaurant. His reward is that I left him in peace.
Another squirrel scampers along our railing, then leans on one arm against the finial, and stares into the kitchen window. I don’t know whether he’s assessing his chances of being chased away, or trying to tell us that the feeder needs filling. Either way, he seems to know right where the kitchen window is, and I know we make eye contact. If I tap on the window, he flicks his tail. I think we’re communicating.
The birds do get their share, but I love to watch them squabbling over who got there first and who’s willing–or not–to share. Share and share alike is not avian philosophy. Even the mild-mannered mourning doves get feisty with other birds and even each other. Usually, though, they feed in peaceful groups–and for some reason, they love to fall asleep in the middle of the platform feeders. They evidently suffer from some degree of narcolepsy, dozing off in mid-nibble and then suddenly waking again, eyes blinking in seeming confusion.
The shrill bluejays, despite their reputation for brashness, tend to sit in the trees and screech before dashing in, grabbing a mouthful, and dashing back out. The cowbirds, of which we seem to have an overabundance, like to gorge. In the spring, they bring their young. I’ve never quite figured out how that works, because cowbirds supposedly lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, leaving their young to be raised by strangers. Nevertheless, I’ve seen cowbirds with wing-fluttering young ones in tow, mewling piteously to be fed, nearly as big as the adults and probably quite capable of taking care of themselves. I think human families deal with the same thing, come to think of it.
The goldfinches are territorial, so if one is at the feeder, no other yellow bird better get too close. And if they’re on a feeder with pegs, no one wants another bird above him. I think they have trust issues. The grosbeaks can be less than hospitable to each other, too.
We even have crows come to eat, but they’ve been invited. We started enticing them from the very first days we lived here. We don’t, however, feed them in the same spot as the song birds. The crows get peanuts in the shell tossed out onto the end of the driveway. If we don’t get them out on time, they sit in the surroundings trees and caw to let us know they’ve arrived. Some grab a peanut and run, some waste a lot of time trying to stuff three or four into their maws at the same time. They pick them up and spit them out and pick them up in a different order until they can make it work.
I’ve watched them fly across the street and bury the peanuts in the grass, then hurry back for more before the others get them. I’ve also watched them follow peanut-filching squirrels, then dig up the peanuts after the squirrels have buried them.
Some are bold, flying in as if they own the place and telling the others to back off. Some land a few feet away and then sidle in sideways, a few steps at a time, as if expecting to be attacked any moment by some unseen enemy. Those are the ones who grab and run–but after the watching the lazy-man’s-load crows, I think the grab-and-runners might end up with more peanuts in the long run.
A few crows eat the peanuts on the spot, holding them with one foot while pecking them open. Occasionally, one will fly to the birdbath and drop the peanut in, then fetch it out again after it has softened up a bit. Peanut eating is obviously a high developed and individual skill among crows.
I get way too much fun out of these animal antics for the feeding stations to be considered philanthropic. Bird–and squirrel–feeding is simply good entertainment.