Monday, January 21, 2008
Birds on the Brain
After a long break, I started refilling the lonely birdfeeder hanging on a shepherd's hook from our deck railing. The birdseed had been purchased months before and sat on a high shelf in my pantry, waiting patiently for an opening day. Are birds particular about expiry dates, come to think of it, do these bags of generic birdseed even have expiry dates? Probably not- I doubt that any consumers are going to sue the companies churning these out, one wouldn't know if it gave a bird food poisoning, I guess.
Five minutes passed, then Instant Miracle. (How do birds know that the bird feeder, unfilled for eons, just got filled?) A chickadee swooped by and landed on the perch. One, two, three...next a cardinal, next a blue jay, next even a woodpecker. Time to get out the Sibley on Eastern American birds. I thumb through the pages, with M jumping up and down in excitement at spotting the woodpecker. Is it the pileated or the ladder backed one? No, it appears to be a red-bellied woodpecker, and the colorings are indicative of a female. Dare I rush to get my camera?
I slip off to the den to locate it, but the woodpecker and chickadees have vanished in the few seconds that it takes. Never mind, I'll just wait in my chair, camera at ready to capture the next avian visitor.
I spend a whole fascinated hour, alternately looking out the picture window and thumbing through the Sibley: it was a parade of local bird life. The woodpecker alternated between the bird feeder and the bark of our defoliated dogwood. The red cardinal was lazy (or timid, take your pick), preferring to feed off the spillings from the depradations of three industrious chickadees. Mrs.Cardinal was not so faint-hearted, venturing onto the tiny perch afforded by the bird feeder. I turned to the pages on chickadees- could this be a black-capped one or the Carolina one? They looked remarkably similar, except that our geographic location ruled out the likelihood of it being a Carolina chickadee.
When I next looked up, there was a mysterious bird with a bluish gray back, slightly curved beak and light belly, darting away the moment the chickadees approached. Bunting, vireo, swallow? Probably not. I finally ID-ed it as a type of nuthatch.
A blue jay screeched harshly, trying to scare away the chickadees and a lone sparrow. It tried to make a landing on the perch, but gave up in short order, preferring instead to feed off the seed scattered in the snow.
A grey squirrel scampered up the posts of the deck, reaching over to sip snow from the 'copper' bird bath that I had installed in the summer. Was he going to go for the bird feeder? ( The kids always had fun trying to shoo the squirrels away when they raided in the summer.) No, not this time. He scampered lightly over to nearby oak, his usually gorgeous bushy tail reduced to a smaller stump- maybe the result of an encounter with a neighbor's cat.
The bird bath, brand new in summer and shiny as a new penny turned out a poor excuse.Being merely copper plated steel, it had rusted from the water poured over the thin plating, the water turning murky within hours of filling it, leaving tiny holes in the bottom. I still haven't figured out how to replace it, with the unsightly hole in our deck railing that it would leave. Maybe I should try setting out a shallow ceramic bowl on it, to provide a suitable container for rain water.
The best birdbath that we had before this was, unlikely as it seems, the rippled and worn out bottom of a kiddie wading plastic pool, upturned over my kids' sandbox to provide an extra layer of protection against the rain. It looked horribly tacky, a pale aqua blue streaked with black-green mold, but had nice perfect-sized depressions in which fresh rainwater collected. It was the spa for all the robins and finches of summer. The robins would queue up on the dogwood branches, taking their turn splashing about in impromptu baths, while the finches took tiny tentative sips from the water, flying away before you could register their presence.
As with all good things, I had to get rid of that pool/cover when we gave away the sandbox. Bye bye birdies and fun bird baths. I thought that the new shiny copper bath would be a good replacement, but it turned out to be a shoddy investment.
It' s time to go ahead and get a new bird feeder to hang on the hook now carrying a half- dead carnation. I'll get thistle seeds for the finches, and sit back to enjoy the show.