We moved to a semi-rural town situated in wooded hills 20 years ago – the attraction was a lot that is half “wild” and slopes down to a creek. This riparian setting attracts a lot of wildlife. What made a “birder” out of me (not on a level serious birders would recognize) is a persimmon tree that is visited by dozens and dozens of birds every winter. It stands loaded with fruit and I can spy on birds of all colors and sizes, from little goldfinches to large northern flickers, from our second story picture window.
I’ve counted over 15 birds at a time at this persimmon feast, which lasts five to six weeks, before my feathered friends head south with full bellies. Several types of woodpeckers have visited us, including (once) the pileated “Woody” woodpecker, who is rare in these parts (northern California).
Having learned a few species names and gained an appreciation, I set out a feeder in the front yard for smaller birds that prefer seeds to fruit etc. A whole different menagerie appeared: sparrows, goldfinches, towhees, and house finches. You can usually identify a seed eater by their thick bills.
I sometimes hear a knocking sound on our roof and feared woodpeckers were making holes to store their acorns. Then one day I chanced to see a flycatcher – a small grey bird with a little “cap” –holding a sunflower seed between his feet and hammering on it with his bill. Mystery solved: the faux woodpeckers were actually birds cracking their seeds to get to the “nut-meat.”
Some species are quite bold – notably robins and the towhees. On the other hand the flickers are surprisingly shy for such a large bird; house finches and waxwings can also be skittish. They take flight if they notice even a hint of movement inside the house. Although sometimes they get a bit greedy – maybe even punch drunk on fermenting fruit – and I’ve been able to crouch right next to the window unobserved. A small group of flickers usually arrive the same time as a flock of waxwings – a lovely slender songbird with a black “mask.” I’ve had no luck photographing either species but andysj531 has done a fabulous job of video taping these waxwings:
We also put out a bird bath that attracts birds in all seasons – especially in summer when their water sources begin to dry up. It’s fun to watch them dip their heads and splash their wings.
I’ve noticed a definite pecking order. Usually the bigger birds dominate the food, but the house finches will gang up (literally) on birds their own size. A brave little chickadee will dart in and steal a morsel and quickly fly off before they get attacked (pecked or flown at, claws first and wings out.) Juncos will patiently wait in line and jump in the minute the finches leave, although they have to be quick as often a male finch will turn around to scare off the other birds from what they try to establish as the “finch hoard.” They are brave enough to set up nests right on our deck almost every yr. The mother sits on the nest and the father (see photo of adult finch above) feeds her. When the eggs hatch both parents bring food to their babies.
If you are interested in attracting birds to your yard, put up a simple feeder and you will be surprised at how fast they discover it. And perhaps also surprised at how fast they can devour it – where did the saying “eats like a bird” come from? Putting the feeder close to a window will deter them flying into it kamikaze style. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if it is located further away they are less apt to notice the glass and more likely to fly into the reflection of trees and sky. Another precaution is to find a place where they can see predators easily; cats will hide in low bushes and hunt the birds. I’m often shooing away the neighborhood cats – they may be handsome, but they are good hunters. And then there are squirrels: they don’t kill birds but they can polish off their food in one sitting, so you may need a squirrel-proof cage (Beware: they have some very clever and acrobatic antics).
We also have wild turkeys in the neighborhood – some people say they are “messy” but I think they are both handsome and funny. One day I woke up to find four of them craning their necks and bobbing their heads at the window to see what we were doing.
And I love the California quails – they like to raise their families in our brush. Below is a handsome Dad looking out for very young chicks (alas as the weeks go by and the “quailets” grow, they also grow fewer in number as they get picked off by predators).
I think this is a red tail hawk (below); they are fairly common regionally. He’s hanging out in a tall tree above our house – the same tree that hosts a great horned owl who hoots at night. One day I heard a commotion and came out to find crows trying to scare this big hawk off of “their” territory. I was amazed that they were so aggressive against a predator almost twice their size – strength in numbers.
This may seem a different post than what I often write, but one of my “themes” is supposed to be nature and it has been months since I’ve written this type of post. Are you a nature lover? “Almost for sure” as a friend of mine likes to say. Share your thoughts, experiences, your favorite places or animals in a comment below.