Monday, July 02, 2007
Good News and Bad News
from the Bird Garden
Our only big birds at present.
NOT LONG AGO. Back in May, I reported that an unlikely pair of turkeys had taken up residence in the yard and were guarding a nest filled with eggs.
The eggs are still there. The turkeys, sadly, have gone and with them any chance the chicks could hatch. Just knowing what sits at the base of the old willow tree has made this whole vista melancholy to look upon.
The day lilies are blooming, though.
We don't know why they left. Turkeys don't offer many explanations. But nature is a funny old girl. When she causes some bit of magic to evaporate, she often compensates by waving her wand somewhere else. Maybe that's why we were suddenly inspired to acquire two new birdfeeders, one for goldfinches and one for hummingbirds. They've been in business for a couple of weeks now and the results have been spectacular.
From the beginning the garden was a magnet for songbirds, and not just the sparrows that always seemed to take over at other places I've lived. Instead there's been a rich and lovely diversity of seasonal visitors and full-time residents. The martin house is stuffed with martins. The wrens are so much at home they even make periodic appearances at the feeders. We have two pair of cardinals, one of the males so gorgeously red that he seems to glow like a light. There's a blue jay, but he's too outnumbered to be a bully. Once we saw a cedar waxwing, and once a bluebird. More regularly, we see teams of red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves, chickadees, and their upside-down friends the nuthatch and titmouse. Also, woodpeckers. Thanks to the willow and its hollowed-out limbs (perfect for hammering beaks), the corn bricks hanging outside the bay window are so constantly visited by husband-and-wife pairs of red-breasted and downy woodpeckers that the squirrels can barely steal enough corn to survive. In years past, it seemed like a privilege just to catch a glimpse of a red-breasted woodpecker, but one of ours has actually become a mild pest. When the corn is gone, he lights on the roof and registers his disapproval with a machine gun tattoo on the rain gutter.
The mister and missus can go through a corn brick in a day or two.
We thought they were the most voracious of the birds, but that's before we hung the goldfinch feeder. In all my life I've never seen more than two or three goldfinches in a year, and generally they're just passing through with that strangely graceful dip-dipping flight path. If they light to feed it's for just a moment, and then they're off, a vanishing flash of sun yellow and black. But they like this new feeder. They like it a lot. By the end of the second day, we were seeing as many as six goldfinches feeding at a time, always in married pairs. Apparently, the dull yellow female doesn't trust her husband to be out of her sight, and moments after he lands somewhere, she lands next to him. When two males perch side by side, you can imagine but not prove that they're complaining to each other about this.
The new goldfinch feeder is a huge hit.
It turns out that goldfinches, with some assistance from the house finches, can gobble down six inches of thistle seed in a day. That's a lot. When they get low, they don't peck the roof, but they keep hopping from one feeder perch to another and cocking their heads, saying, "Where's the damn food?" They're also not shy. As soon as the lawnmower gets a few yards away, they're back at the feeder, pigging out. Fairly soon, they're going to be too fat to fly away and they'll have to stay. Good for us.
The other great consolation for the loss of the turkeys has been the hummingbird feeder. I knew we had at least one hummer because I saw him make lightning tours of the perennial beds on several occasions. But they're so tiny and fast that as soon as they're gone, you're no longer sure you saw them in the first place. A feeder right outside the window is the only way around that problem. Of course, I've known a lot of people who had no luck at all with hummingbird feeders. So there really must be some magic at work in the yard. The day after the feeder was installed, there came a hummingbird, and we both saw it. Now he's a regular.
The only downside is that being able to see them so close up, you're desperate to capture the event in a photograph. Which just ain't easy to do. Little as they are, they can see you reach for that camera through the window and then it's "Adios, heigh-o, Silver" time. But I did manage to get this one distant shot. It's not good, mind you. All it's good for is to show you I'm not lying. The hummer did actually get recorded by the camera.
There he is, hovering at the left of the base.
What a small thing to dwell on. I know there are many great affairs underway right now in the outside world. I know that some of them are important and worth thinking about. I'll think about them tomorrow or the next day. Just not today.