I was having one of those times-of-a-life the
other day--at least I thought I was--perched in an easy-to-sit swivel chair
in front of a double glass door that led directly onto a large deck overlooking
a beautiful stretch of White River’s West Fork.
There is this large wooden deck (I call it a back
porch) the crawl space under which is called home by ‘possums, raccoons,
chipmunks, and I suspect, a groundhog now and then. But they don’t figure
in this adventure. You see, I also feed birds and squirrels on the south
railing (about six inches wide), and I have a menagerie of friends, including
squirrels (red and fox, old and young), ‘possums, ‘coons, and I don’t know
I have found, incidentally, that most of the birds
and squirrels prefer black oil sunflower seed, but that several of the
gang, or pride, or heard will eat the corn (whole kernel), especially the
hearts (squirrels) and leave the rest for whomever will eat it.
The winter resident woodpeckers prefer the suet
feeder, which hangs suspended from a wire between two redbud trees a few
feet away. I was watching those four, of course, with much interest, and
thinking that at one time I could see all four (pileated, our throwback
to prehistoric days; the hairy; the downy, a miniature copy of the hairy,
with white back stripe; and the red belly, whose claim to the name is seldom
noted by man). Missing my muster was the red head, which now is in the
southland, the bibbed northern flicker which spends more time on the ground
than in trees, conspicuously absent though it sporadically spends some
time in the South during the cold months here, and the machine-gun drilling
sapsucker, also with us mostly in the warmer months.
Anyhow, here I am, treating my molars to a slab
of home made gooseberry pie (vanilla ice cream yet), and learning some
things about the behavior of the birds and critters, when for some strange
reason the picture went blank. Not a small bird in sight, but the squirrels
sat in an ash tree with jaundiced eyes surveying my back yard in the same
tree with a sharp-shinned hawk. Later the Cooper’s hawk would drop around
to see what was for lunch.
The winter resident sharp-shin was about, and
he wanted to take a bird to lunch. The takers were mysteriously in hiding,
though, so he just bided his time (never scored) in the redbud trees at
close range, occasionally flitting to the earth to try for an English sparrows,
slate-colored juncos, Carolina wrens, and other ground feeders. But no
luck, and I didn’t want to make my presence known and spook him. The tiny
notch in the end of the tail told me it was definitely a sharp-shin (much
like the look-alike Cooper’s hawk in all respects). He had to eat, too.
His presence made my day--some of the best viewing I have ever had of this
bird--and in the pauses there were always the phalanx of the birds we take
for granted--the covey of (12-15) old reliable English sparrows, the nuthatches,
tufted titmice, chickadees, mourning doves, and brown creepers, not to
mention a chipmunk or two even though they should have been in underground
lairs for the winter.
Some things I realized:
To feed, or otherwise care for birds, one must
accept the fact that this tends to “set-up” the birds for attacks of hawks
and other enemies. This is the law of nature that is effective whether
or not man is involved. It makes life easier for the raptors. In most cases
the feeder should also provide shallow water.
Bluejay--If you look closely you will note a small
“rectangularish” white patch in the otherwise gray belly. Present only
in adult birds, I think.
Red-bellied Woodpecker--In some birds (maybe adult
males) you will see a quarter-inch red dot--his name feature--in the middle
of the tummy. May be present only on adult males, I think. The red-bellied
male, you will recall, has an orangish-red cap that overflows onto the
nape of the neck. On the female the red is confined to the top of the head.
Brown Creeper--Most often skips lightly up a tree
(bottom to top) while feeding, and flies down for an instant replay.
Chickadees--We may have Carolina chickadees to
go with our black capped. If so, you can separate the two by size. The
Carolina is noticeably larger, it seems.
I need no lions or tigers jumping through hoops.