Birds of a Feather
They say it is a very thin line between retirement and becoming a birdwatcher.
As I sit in my sunroom recliner having my early morning coffee, (and ‘early’ is a relative term as most of the world has been at work or school for quite some time before I take my first sip) I like to invent lives for our birds akin to what you would find in a soap opera.
The most stable or consistent birds from a year-round perspective would be the Titmouses. Is the plural supposed to be titmice? Sometimes I use that but I’m not sure. Anyway, these critters never seem to go anywhere for the fall, winter, spring, or summer. They are content to live right here and rush in to the feeder every time it is available. With their spiked heads, they remind me of punk rockers. At the sake of sounding like my parents, I can’t tell the difference between male and female. I marveled at one’s tenacity the other day when I watched him/her fly in from quite some distance through gusting winds, land on the feeder and select one sunflower seed, and then fly off to a very distant tree to crack and eat the seed.
Goldfinches seem to be the most plentiful. We have had twenty to thirty on the feeders at some point. I think they resemble middle schoolers. They are so loud; they talk constantly and some want to wear the brightest fashions. And there always seems to be some kind of drama taking place while they clamor in the lunch line and push each other out of the way. Last month they were emptying a feeder on almost a daily basis until we switched from sunflower to thistle seed, which is supposed to be what they like. Of course, that feeder only drops a quarter inch per day now. We probably have enough left in the bag to last a few years.
The Gnat Catchers and Chickadees are simply extras in this daytime drama. The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks appear to be tourists—fly in for a day or two, hit all the trendy restaurants, and then off to see more of the world.
We have one pair of beautiful red Northern Cardinals. They could be DINKs (double income-no kids) but I told Jenni they were most likely retired. All they do is roam around the yard, always staying within eyesight of each other. They don’t seem to have many friends and certainly show no signs of caring for young’uns.
The hardest working couple on the mountain has to be the Eastern Bluebirds. It took years to get them to settle here. Once they closed on their house they stuck with it through the highs and lows. Over the past several years the bluebirds survived a raid by a black bear and a black snake. A couple years ago the male entertained having an affair with another female (who was quite persistent) but the long-standing matriarch basically beat the tar out of the newcomer and she skipped town. Last year the pair raised three different nests of fledglings. This year, however, has taken a tragic turn. First, we watched them select the finest straws to build a new nest. It wasn’t long and the eggs obviously hatched. Then the feedings began. All day, both male and female worked tirelessly to provide insects for their brood. Each time a parent arrived with food they would go inside the house to feed the babies. On Monday I remarked that the chicks must be really big now because the parents basically catch an insect, fly to the house, drop dinner through the opening, and go in search of another meal. I also noticed the poop-sacks the male carries away were growing larger each day. We assumed the babies would be leaving the nest any day.
But then the tragic news. On Wednesday I looked out the window and saw that the birdhouse was wide open and all the contents had been pulled out. Upon closer inspection, I found small feathers at the base of the post and one wing twenty feet away. How sad. Later that afternoon, Jenni saw the male return and perch for several minutes on a nearby post—no singing, no feeding, just looking and waiting. During our Thursday morning coffee, we listened to the male singing from the top of an oak tree. This went on for several minutes but no one answered his call. He finally flew away. We saw him again that evening, still alone, still waiting.
No sign of him on Friday. I don’t know if there will be another female in his life, but I hope so.
I think I have become vested in the daily activity of our birds. As sands through an hourglass, so are the days of our birds’ lives.