“Oh look, a chickadee just landed at the platform feeder–nope, it’s gone, but a nuthatch is there now…was there, he grabbed a peanut and got chased out by a fat squirrel…”
It sounds like the running commentary at an avian sporting event, and it is a bit like a show. Every morning, while we’re fixing breakfast or doing dishes, the critters arrive for their handouts, flitting, fluttering, fighting and feasting on the goodies we put out just outside our window.
I watch a little downy woodpecker peck, peck, pecking away at a frozen piece of suet, look away, then glance back to see that he has suddenly bulked up as if on steroids, still pecking. His super-sized lookalike is just the hairy woodpecker, of course, big enough to chase little cousin away. But his reign at the suet lasts only until the red-bellied woodpecker demands his share.
A cardinal lands on the swing frame and watches, head darting in all directions, always leery. The food lines are full, and he likes plenty of space when he grabs a treat. For just a moment, one feeder clears, and he takes his chance, swooping, grabbing a sunflower seed and leaving again in a red blur, while down below, a blue jay lands, claims a peanut-in-the-shell, then flashes up to a tree limb where he cracks it open and eats without being disturbed.
Nearby, at the standing-room-only millet diner, a variety of nondescript little brown birds line up. Some are on the perches, some wait on the deck railing, sitting on their feet to keep them warm; others flutter about the eaters in the hopes of forcing them to vacate their seats. A few hopefuls gather on the cedar hedge below, waiting for fallout or a chance to snap up a suddenly empty perch. A lot of people don’t like those little birds; not fancy enough, I guess. But I find them endearing, and since no one else wants the millet, I welcome them.
All the varieties give way to the squirrels in an explosion of wings, of course. They leap onto the feeders like the acrobats they are, sending them dipping and swaying while they expertly ride the turbulence, oblivious to the baleful glances of the birds or my own shouted protests. I don’t protest for long. The winter wind ruffles their tails, they hunker down, and I concede that it’s cold and they’re hungry, too.
Everyone gives way when the turkeys arrive, and even the squirrels don’t argue with them. Still, big as they are, they are the most cautious, pecking and looking, heads down, heads up, alert even to movement from the window as I try to shoot a photo. A squirrel moves in, crawling flat as if in supplication, but gives up quickly, outnumbered and outgunned. The turkeys like the peanuts, but they like the cracked corn better, and since the other birds disdain it, they have it all to themselves.
The feeding frenzy continues and then suddenly, they’re all gone, responding to some subliminal signal only the critters comprehend. For the time being. The little brown birds will return to the millet regularly, the squirrels will hog the feeders on and off all day. The woodpeckers and nuthatches, in their backwards march down the tree, will steadily chip away at the suet.
Every day the show is at once brand new, and the same. Every day it entertains and amuses. And every day I know I have these critters to be grateful for.