The rain stopped on Sunday afternoon, after seven days. Our garden doesn’t get swamped for too long as we live half way on a steep hill - the water won’t just stand about waiting to evaporate, our basement suffers. We had a sump pump put in so there is no more flooding, our personal deluge ends up in the Hudson. Just like it used to, I guess, before the white man created obstacles.
So the soggy passerines came out in force on Sunday afternoon. They have been waiting to build nests.
In our apple tree I have hung a thistle seed feeder. Some goldfinches own this tree. They will submit, temporarily, to a sparrow, but the charm soon wins over. I wonder where they all live. The ubiquitous sparrows, or most of them, share our eaves and gutters. I recognize one or two of them sometimes. One had a piece of nylon ribbon attached to a foot for a few days. She looked like a small, fluffy balloon escaped from a kid’s party.
The peach tree at the back has a more accessible sunflower seed feeder. It’s not as niche. Last year I managed to get within whispering distance of a skinny house finch and noticed its eyes were almost glued shut. I also wondered about its’ hearing capacity. I read that there could be some kind of salmonella affecting the bird - food poisoning. It could be my fault. I started to wash the feeders regularly after that, although I didn’t notice any other birds that were afflicted. What puzzled me was how it found the feeder. Do finches have a keen sense of smell?
A plague of grackles came by one day. They perched high in our neighbour’s shaggy pine and then invaded, pushing out all except a merl of red-winged blackbirds, themselves the wispy end of a cloudy migration.
In the dogwood to the side of the house I hung two feeders, one is squirrel proof (as much as anything can be) but the other isn’t. I don’t mind them all sharing and I actually scatter critter food about in winter like Brenda Fricker in Home Alone 2. We have two red tailed squirrels, a black squirrel, and maybe three or more of the all grey squirrels. They come and go, family. They live over the road in another neighbour’s house. He sets traps for them so that they aren’t running around his attic. Friendly traps. Then he drives them 50 miles away and releases them upstate. And here I am feeding them and wondering if they miss each other.
The radiant cardinals, I have noticed, pair off and are extremely territorial. I hardly ever see more than two at a time, unless they are fighting. Do they deserve a collective noun? It’s the same with wrens, they are aggressively antisocial to their own kind. Some males will fight over a female even if she is already incubating her eggs. A successful interloper will get rid of the eggs of his defeated predecessor and start again. We have a nesting box in front and one male wren has been putting himself about there, singing his syrinx out whilst still building. For what? I feel for him, but he could be the other guy. I’ve herd of wrens (a sic pun) but this is ridiculous.
The songs of the wren and the cardinal are nothing compared to the mockingbird and starling, but I do find them easier to identify. Mockingbirds, I only ever see solitary, I hear their echoes though, similar to the mewing catbird, and I could listen to them all day.
The starlings here, in our backyard, aren’t great in number, so we don’t see those beautiful swooping murmurations at dusk as we did in Brighton in the UK. I don’t know what goes on there. Maybe they have some collective consciousness, a hive mind. I know that starlings were introduced here in NY, in 1890 by, Eugene Schieffelin, and maybe they have swollen in number nationally, but in certain places there are not enough of them to put on those displays. Why do they do it anyway, just because they can, like gulls boomeranging in the wind? Are they so happy to see each other after a hard day? Why don’t they all just settle down and sleep? Or is it because when there is such a massive, chattering number of them they attract raptors that then try and take advantage of some late supper. Is the beautiful starling sky ballet just mass hysteria?
I had never seen a nuthatch until I moved into this house, now at least one is a regular visitor, as are the woodpeckers, there are at least four of those, but not together, never together. The nuthatch can share time at the feeder with the chickadees but every one is out of there when the sparrows come around. The sparrows fill their bellies, whereas the nuthatches and woodpeckers, and the chickadees, will take some and store it and come back. It depends on the time of day also, and what they want to eat. I don’t think the woodpeckers are interested in coming down so far to our yard when the earth warms and grubs become available.
The mourning doves content themselves with the spilled husks. Now sometimes there are a few of those birds, skulking about the grass, heads bowed. There could be six or eight of them. So I would say they could deserve a collective noun like, a ‘funereal procession of mourning doves’. Slightly long winded, I know, but no more ridiculous than ‘a parliament of owls’. I’ve seen a few owls, but they were always by themselves. Some birds just do not need a collective term.
A splattering of robins?
A dash of osprey?
Talking of which…
From above, our houses, our gardens, our yards, this land is not separate. The boiling hawks, the kettling vultures see only the traps we have put out and the bait eating the traps.
Last winter I saw a red-tailed hawk perched on our snow-laden privet hedge, the flakes were big and soft that day and still falling. Maybe the bird’s feathers were wet and it was tired from a meatless hunt. As I tried to capture a photograph, the hawk flew up into whiteness. I should have taken out a steak from the fridge for it. A different hawk on a different day had figured it out though and was feasting on a sparrow in the snow by our shed. I got closer to this one but it took hold of what it was tearing into and flew just over my woolly head as I fluffed towards it. I couldn’t tell what it was. My first thought was sparrowhawk, obviously, but things are different here in the USA, in NY, in Yonkers, in the snow. It could have been many things, or at least also a falcon.
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