Double Take

This is a very greedy and/or hungry Bluejay. He's managed to get a pair of nuts from the feeder into his beak.

This is a very greedy and/or hungry Bluejay. He’s managed to get a pair of nuts from the feeder into his beak.

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Bird Buddies

I enjoy feeding birds. However, I have found (so far) that in my small-town urban setting, I only attract a few types of birds. Not complaining — I just think there are more species around the region I could be seeing.

I’ve not yet graduated to a heated waterer, like my father and brother have. They also live in rural settings, near forested areas. But we agree that having water for the birds, especially in winter, is a real attractant. Those guys get birds that normally don’t even stick around in the winter. They have tons of Bluebirds that stay around their houses all year. They discovered that putting mealworms in their heated waterers provides the Bluebirds with ample food (and water). Obviously the Bluebirds, who would normally migrate south, to warmer locales, must be able to keep themselves warm enough to survive the icy-cold winters on the upper Midwest — if they are provided with ample food and water.

So I believe I need to convince my wife to let me hook up a heated waterer. She doesn’t want the “unsightly” electric cord crossing our deck, so I need to figure out how to run the wire under our deck (it is a low-to-the-ground deck, not one raised up on ‘stilted’ legs). I could even bury the cord or hide it in our flower garden where my feeders are. So this will be a dual-pathed project: convincing my wife, and getting power in an unobtrusive fashion to where I will set the waterer.

Below are some photos I have snapped of my birds and squirrels that stop by to feed from my two feeders and suet feeder.

Downy Woodpecker grabbing bites from the suet feeder.

Downy Woodpecker grabbing bites from the suet feeder.

A Purple Finch snacking on seeds during a February snowstorm.

A Purple Finch snacking on seeds during a February snowstorm.

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Squirrel cleans up on the spilled seeds (many of which he gets to spill by climbing up the feeder pole and tipping the feeder).

Squirrel cleans up on the spilled seeds (many of which he gets to spill by climbing up the feeder pole and tipping the feeder).

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High-wire act by a Yellow Finch.

High-wire act by a Yellow Finch.

Feeding Birds And People

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Thanks to my father and youngest brother, I have taken a keener interest in birds.

I say “keener” because I have always enjoyed watching birds. I was fortunate to grow up and live in a region of America that has an abundance of wild birds. I suspect any region of America has an abundance of wild birds, and most likely, an amount equal or more than the number of species living in southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska. But since my bird-watching hobby has developed in that part of middle America, it’s the only personal contact I have had with birds.

I grew up in southeast South Dakota, and then after a couple years out of the area, I relocated across the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska. It truly is a wildlife heaven. There are all kinds of birds — from the usual collection of “neighborhood” birds, like robins, wrens, cardinals, and bluebirds, to larger birds, such as eagles, hawks, turkeys, turkey vultures, and pheasants.

I have lived nearly all my life in towns. The populations of the two main cities where I lived were 13,000 and 750. My parents lived on 100 acres near a Missouri River reservoir, and my brother lived in a development nearby. While my “urban” dwelling allowed me to see a nice collection of birds: sparrows, robins, wrens, and finches mostly, my parents and brother saw a monster multiplicity of birds.

So when I moved to another town about six months ago, I wanted to attract birds. My new wife and I set up feeders and a birdbath. We hung a hummingbird feeder. And then we sat back and waited for the birds to come flying in.

They didn’t.

At least not in the droves of species I have hoped for. We get sparrows, wrens, finches (yellow and purple/red), robins, and starlings for the most part. We occasionally see a cardinal couple, a bluejay.

But this spring, after watching my father and brother have up to 15 orioles show up at feeders filled with grape jelly and halved oranges, I decided to see if I could attract those beautifully-orange, sweet-toothed birds.

I placed a small ceramic bowl with a healthy dollop of grape jelly on a table on our deck. Within 12 hours, we had a brightly-hued male dipping his beak into the purple sweetness. I was ecstatic! I was elated … excited … encouraged.

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In visiting with my father and brother about their bevy of orioles, it was surmised that this huge collection was among the many of the species that were migrating. As the orioles make their way north, some drop off along the flight path, and decide to take up residence at stops along their flight path. The rest continue on. Within a week, the busy feeders at Dad’s and my brother’s had seen a substantial dropoff of orange. It appeared the majority of their oriole visitors had moved on.

My father, in the previous 3-4 years, has had orioles make their unique teardrop nests in a tree just outside his picture window. He gets to watch them come and go while building the nest, and then come and go while tending the young inhabitants of that nest. This year, the tree that had held those previous oriole nests had to be cut down, the victim of disease and age. So he has not seen where the orioles that remained in his area, and still come to feed on jelly and oranges, now reside.

As for my oriole efforts, a day after that male had showed up, a female (I am assuming his partner) made some tentative approaches before eventually skittishly settling on the edge of the bowl and grabbing beakfuls of jelly. Though they are very cautious in their efforts of get their fill of jelly, the pair eventually felt safe and made countless trips to the deck to partake in the sweet feast.

Within a week, I began seeing other orioles at the bowl. My high-water moment came when I had one eating and four others perched on deck furniture waiting for their turn at the trough. I have enjoyed these newcomers, and the original pair, often over the last few days.

And I have noticed, the birds in this collection of orioles are very much like the human race — diverse and very different.

Just as we humans are born with physical features that sets us apart from others of our species, these orioles have physical features that enable me to recognized them immediately. Whereas mankind breaks down by races and ethnicities, these orioles are all the same species … Baltimore Orioles. Though there are also Bullocks Orioles and American Orioles, what I have at my jelly bowl is most certainly Baltimore Orioles.

They are varied in color depth and brilliance, as well as differences between the male and female of the species. But what I have noticed is that each one of those birds, in its own unique and individual makeup, is beautiful and fun to watch. Bright orange, duller orange, bright yellow, or mustard-hued yellow — they are all magnificent creatures.

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And this got me thinking … as respectful that I am of each oriole that has stopped by my jelly bowl, do I offer similar respect to all humans with whom I come in contact? How about the humans I see on the TV news and sports? Or those I read about in newspaper and magazine articles?

I hope so. I like to think I demonstrate an equal amount of respect to each and every human being I see or meet. It is, after all, a truly basic characteristic of being human. Right? Love your neighbor as you love yourself … the basis upon which the Bible was created so many years ago.

I have always felt it shouldn’t take a book to explain how we should live among our fellow man. To me, within each of us should exist the basic tenant that we should care for all humans. I don’t mean to place myself on some moralistic pedestal. I admit, it took me at the very least, half of my time on Earth to come to this conclusion. But I did arrive at it, and I try to live my life with that being the foundation of my existence.

I love watching my oriole friends (I consider them friends since they come and visit often). And I love watching, and encountering, my fellow man. My children will attest, I consider no one a stranger. I will strike up a conversation with anyone. If they choose not to engage, I graciously back off, but if they decide to carry on the conversation, well, I have met someone new, and that someone has added to the depth of my life.

I don’t really know why I drew this correlation. But as I sat on my couch this morning, sipping coffee and watching the orioles grab multiple bites of purple breakfast, I was struck by the similarity — the relationship I have with those brilliant-but-skittish birds. I had offered my friendship, via food, and they had accepted.

I do the same with people … errr, not always with food, though. But maybe what I offer them is something akin to food. Perhaps it is food for their souls. By being accepting of them, respecting them, and offering that respect, I might very well be feeding their souls. And when I do that, I can consider each one my friend.

It doesn’t have to be a lifetime friendship — even a brief exchange while waiting in line, or filling up our car, or even passing in a hallway — it is a friendship. It is feeding their souls. It is, as I have done with the orioles, showing respect and acceptance of all.

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Angry Bird

Well actually, it’s two birds who are apparently angry with my car. And if I am going to be technically and specifically correct, they are not angry at my car as a whole, but with the passenger side rearview mirror. And in truth, I am guessing they are angry with that which they see in the mirror. They see themselves in the reflection of the mirror, and thus, are angry with themselves.

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I have to assume these two sparrows, who I am fairly certain have anger management issues, have taken up residence somewhere ┬áin our front yard, and most importantly, within eyesight of my car. My poor innocent Jeep Patriot has incited within these two sparrows, something akin to Hatfields and McCoys tension. Obviously, whenever my little silver Jeep is parked in the driveway (our two-car garage isn’t big enough for our family’s three vehicles, so I voluntarily park near the end of the driveway so my wife and step-daughter can park in the garage. It’s really not as noble as it sounds; I arrived to the household last, so the two stalls had already been claimed and I felt no urgency to park in the garage since I’d never parked in a garage at previous residences. Plus I just felt it was the right thing to do, letting the “fairer” sex of our family unit have the comfort of the garage — that’s the noble part. But I digress)

I’ve not noticed that it happens every time my vehicle is parked in its usual location near the end of the driveway (I park there to enable my wife to get out of her stall of the garage since she goes to work earlier than I do; she can maneuver around my car, therefore not having to wake me early just to get me to move my car). But on at least four occasions, I have seen these two pint-sized feathered fellows (well, it could be a male and female couple, or a gang of males — yeah, two is a rather sickly gang) making mean toward the passenger side rearview mirror.

And they aren’t shy about demonstrating their hate for that mirror. One time, I got into my car (on the driver’s side) and some action caught my peripheral vision, so I looked at that side of the car. There were those two sparrows going all … uhhh … Angry Birds … on the mirror. I sat there astounded that (1) my entrance into the car hadn’t frightened them away, and (2) that their attacks on that innocent mirror were quite vicious.

But as I watched from my car, and, as I watched three other times from my kitchen, it is pretty obvious those two birds are very, very angry. And their anger is directed toward that mirror. However, I have concluded that their anger is directed toward that which they see in the mirror. And that which they see is themselves.

Only they don’t know it.

At least I don’t think they do. It could be some bizarre ritualistic flagellation that exists within the sparrow species. Perhaps they feel the need to peck and scratch at themselves anytime they see their reflection. I guess it’s possible, I mean, who am I to profess to understand nature.

It is not a continual attacking by both birds. Rather, as one perches along the passenger side window, the other crashes itself at the mirror. The one launching the attack flutters fast and furiously, pecking its beak at the mirror. Sometimes its feet rise up in an attempt to claw at the mirror. But then, as quickly and intensely as an attack takes place, it stops. The attacking sparrow lights atop the mirror casing and rests.

But the rest only last seconds, as the anger-stoked bird bends forward, eyes the mirror, and then drops down, again fluttering madly, and repeats its attacking actions.

IMG_1138I also noticed that the car does not have to be parked at then end of the driveway in order to become a victim. Oh no. Twice now, the car has been parked up near the garage. Those pesky little birds swoop down from wherever they are stationed, and let loose with a fury matched only by Hell. And let me tell you, Hell hath no fury like a sparrow scorned — or at least a sparrow who thinks it is being scorned.

It has become my theory that the sparrow the attacking sparrows see in the mirror represents a threat. As it seems as though one of the two sparrows is the primary attacker, I am theorizing that the Jeep-jamming sparrows are a couple. And since one of this couple does most of the attacking — possibly all of it as, well, sparrows do tend to look alike or at least have differentiating differences so minute they are really difficult to tell apart — I am thinking the attacking sparrow is the male. And he is attacking the mirror sparrow as a show of machoism and to maintain his manly appearance. In other words, dude’s got a woman and he ain’t about to let her think he ain’t manly — in a bird sort of way.

So each time my Jeep is parked in our driveway, that male sparrow sees the mirror, and assumes his rival is sitting on the other side of the cover. So he dives out of the nesting locale, and proceeds to pummel the rival for his fair maiden’s affections.

But what make this whole aerial dance of maleocincrity take on an air of humor, is this little bird doesn’t realize he’s beating a reflective image of himself. He literally does not realize his rival is himself. He doesn’t know its him.

He’s beating himself up.

I fear this fine feathered fanatic is going to wear himself out, if not kill himself, with his tough guy act. I mean, my Jeep isn’t going anywhere. It will be parked there every day and every night. So if that little Arnold Sparrowennager keeps attacking my car’s mirror, he’s got a real long spring ahead of him. He will be too worn out from beating himself up that he won’t be able to go hunt food for his youngsters. He will be so tired, he will keep falling asleep in the nest each night, leading to a rather frustrated Mrs. Sparrow.

I confess, I am a bit worried about my Jeep’s attacker. Other than a few random droppings on the passenger door and mirror cover, courtesy of that poor pooped pecker, my car is showing no signs of damage. If the mirror could, I’d bet it would laugh at the little sparrow. I considered parking the Jeep out in the street, or in the alleyway behind our house, in hopes the mirror mixup would mildly melt away.

But I have decided to do nothing. It is nature. It is the nature of courtship, the statement-making, the billowing bravado of a bird-brained … ummmm … bird. If it is that sparrow’s lot in life to go around challenging car mirrors, just as Don Quixote challenged windmills, then I shall step back, clear the battlefield, and let the best man … errr … bird … or mirror … win. I actually imagined a day in the future, when the little sparrow might find himself lying on a bird psychologist’s couch, beating himself up over spending so much time beating himself up.

Like I said … it’s nature. And nature gets screwed up once in a while. I feel bad that I cannot do anything about this Angry Bird. I just hope someday soon, he realizes that getting angry solves nothing. Angry Birds just need to step back, recognize the futility of their actions, and become Happy Birds.

Yes indeed … let’s add some Happy Birds. Why don’t we give ourselves some Happy Birds. Happy, happy birds.