I have what might be called a surfeit of birdfeeders on my back deck. It started simply enough with just one, but seeing the pecking order of birds, which determines who eats first, or most, I decided to give them a larger selection. Hoping that with a buffet to choose from, and plenty to go around, there would be less dive bombing those lower on the social ladder. As I added feeders, family and friends searched out to find the rare or unusual to add to the medley that has now grown to ten. They love me at the feed store, my regular visits are hailed, and they accommodate me by breaking down single 50 pound bags into two that I can handle.
Of course my deck is an almost a neon sign announcing, “Squirrel Café.” I do spend a good deal of time shooing these hoard loving creatures away. And although this was the year of the Acorn, they ignore the countless nuts that cover my lawn, and insist on dining on my deck.
Birds that stay in our area for the winter, seem to spend most of their time in search of food. And that old adage “eat like a bird” should mean something quite different. Many birds eat twice their weight in food every day. A bird’s food intake in proportion to its size, is that of cat or a baby. While birds like the Hummingbird, (although now spending the winter in the south,) eat about every ten minutes, slurping down twice their weight in nectar every day.
And the delightful early morning sounds of waking birds, that welcome the dawn, is not to send the world beautiful music, it is simply telling the other males “This is my space, stay away.” Establishing a territory is determined by both male and female, who defend it mostly during breeding season, other birds stand guard year round. Females defend the breeding areas, to attract mates and find appropriate nest sites, a deck chockfull of black oil sunflower seeds nearby, adds to the ” location, location, location” theory.
Birds have an interesting defense system to protect them from enemies. Some birds colored patterns allow them to blend into their surroundings, they can stand perfectly still and undetected for long periods of time, or until danger has passed. I saw this happen, when suddenly, my deck busy with morning feeding, was suddenly motionless, all the birds frozen in place. I saw that high on a branch in the back yard, was a hawk. He, too, was ready for his morning feeding. I was surprised at the length of time and patience, shown by all these birds, who immediately knew the danger and took evasive action.
Bird songs are delightful to listen to, although their agenda is not to entertain. Birds have a tremendous variety of vocalizations. They are divided into two groups, the call, usually a short simple call of distress, flight or warning. And the song, a longer vocal with a distinct pattern. Most of the time, it is only the males that sing, but there are exceptions, and the female Cardinal has a great song.
In addition birds are capable of a great variety of songs, anywhere from 5 to 14. Birds like the Mockingbird, who can mimic most sounds they hear, these composers of the bird world can also produce hundreds of songs. These melodies can also be saying, “Here I am, where are you,” or much like a bird’s resume, this tune can tell species, age, sex and experience. It is an interesting concept like the song from The King and I, “Getting to Know You.” But singing your next resume would probably only make an impression if you were trying out for a part in a Broadway musical.
Just like any vocalist, no two birds sound exactly alike. Little differences in pitch and timing help to make each unique. This gives their mates, youngsters, parents and neighbors a way to identify them in a crowd. For example Penguins (one of the flightless birds), are able to locate their mates with their specific call amidst thousands, in the deafening noise of a colony.
Birds are amazing and most interesting creatures, I feed the birds all year round, as I enjoy them immensely. From the timid Cardinals, to the tiny Chickadees, to the occasional Blue Jay. I have watched mothers feed their young, while the youngsters flap their wings, mouths wide open, chirping loudly. Or scolding a chipmunk, who had squeezed his way into the cage surrounding the seed container, then proceeded to eat himself so fat he was unable to escape.
Sitting on my deck in the early morning with a coffee is a great way to start the day, weather permitting of course.
My favorite adage is “A bird does not sing because it has the answer, it sings because it has a song.”