I loved Mike Turnlund’s column in the recent “Neighbors” insert, extolling his experiences with his coveted single Stellers’ Jay. I met Mike, “Birdman Par Excellence,” several years ago and asked him to give a bird identification presentation for our Native Plant Society monthly meeting. His professional knowledge is incredible, far overshadowing my little two-year Ornithology classes in college. I devour his stories and the Stellers’ offering really touched a chord.
I am fortunate to have had hostess privileges to four (or five)? of those big, beautiful birds since early Autumn and love their raucous, rasping, bossy call. I’m out at daybreak with sunflower seeds for the Chickadees, nuthatches and turkeys – and peanuts for the Jays and my “pet” Pine-Jimmy.
The ensuing interplay between the latter two is hysterical. One of the Jays insists on copping some of the ‘Jimmie’s stash on my deck, and is fiercely chased off by the little squirrel –only to fly up and over his head and return to the dish. Jimmy races back, chattering indignantly, the Jay flies up and around, and the whole procedure is repeated – time after time. What entertainment! And it’s free. Now if only I could get a picture!
At my house, the Grosbeaks, Towhees, Robins and even the Juncos are long gone, and surprisingly (to me) the little Pine Siskins went with them. Perhaps they’d gotten used to the benign protection that the big Grosbeaks provided, or simply wanted to get away from our sudden plunge into the -20s. They generally return to the feeders in very early spring, so I’ll look forward to that.
Meanwhile, I’m making special efforts to ease the discomfort and possible dangers of the current freeze – with water as the main problem. The turkeys, being wild, fend for themselves and with Schweitzer Creek close at hand I don’t worry for them. When snow’s on the ground, small birds have a source of moisture, but now, with barren cold surroundings, I’m always having to chip ice from the birdbath and replenish the shallow ceramic pie-plate on the deck for Jimmie and the snowbirds.
I have baskets of black oil sunflower seeds, as well as suet blocks, hanging just inside the overhang of my front porch/deck. These see a steady stream of feathered customers from the afore-mentioned “snow-birds” to visitors such as Downy and Hairy woodpeckers, an occasional Tufted titmouse, and of course the Stellars’ gang. There are also roosting pockets – looking like little rustic birdhouses, hanging against the inside wall of the porch for shelter in stormy weather. A frequent visitor is a gigantic Pileated woodpecker who has resided in and around my cottonwoods since I moved in here in 1990. I swear he’s a foot and a half long, and bigger than any of my feeders. He gets an upside-down grip on a basket, contorts his neck to get his head into the opening, and generally does pretty well. He’s a welcome guest in summer – along with a pair of red-shafted Flickers – eating the red ants in their huge mound at the side of my property.
All of my efforts and precautions are made with a true love and respect for our valued winter bird population – and have brought about a major (and exciting) decision on my part. This year, I will get the fattest, prettiest Christmas tree I can find and mount it on the front porch right in front of my big windows! I’ll decorate it with small colored lights, weather-proof ornaments – of which I have a long lifetime collection – and all kinds of fruit, dried corncobs, peanuts, popcorn, and seed /suet balls for the birds! It will provide food, warmth and shelter for them, beauty (and inside room) for me, a pretty treat for those driving by, and hopefully, delight for all concerned. That should make for a happy Christmas all around!
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Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. or by phone at 208-265-4688.