Bird Watching

Serious ornithologists go to where the birds are, but we watch them from the comfort of our breakfast nook.

For the five winters we’ve lived in Virginia (this time) Treva has provided a smorgasbord for avians. Lately she’s concentrated on peanut butter, corn meal and suet smeared on the low branches of a maple tree, thistles in a vertical feeder for the finches, a veritable trail mix of seeds in a domes feeder, we call the mushroom–designed to inhibit large bird access, an all-bird mix in a squirrel-proof house shaped feeder, and finally a horizontal tray mounted on a pole to discourage the squirrels. The tray carries a variety of feeds including peanuts, cracked corn, sunflower seeds, various seeds and (drum roll) dead meal worms.

After a cold, but dry fall, the east coast has enjoyed serious winter weather in 2014. So far Virginia has dodged the worst of the storms, which ravaged both the Deep South and New England. As a result we have enjoyed a large and varied population at the feeders. Juncos, chickadees, sparrows and finches crowd the feeders daily.

Simon and Garfunkel entertained the 70s and since, with their observations of anthropomorphic behavior among the animals “At the Zoo.” We’ve noticed the same among central Virginia’s birds.

Male Cardinals are noticeable in their ecclesiastical crimson. They are also the state bird, so presumably native to the area. They pose in a grand manner as they receive our offerings.

Blue jays also frequent the buffet. They have a keen eye for a bargain, coming infrequently but often just after the tray is replenished, assuring them the first grab at their favorite dish.

Less welcome are the doves which squat on the horizontal feeder and vacuum its contents. Rats with wings, they empty the feeder, often tossing much of the food to the ground.

Grackles and starlings are the neighborhood bullies. They descend on the feeders in gangs and chase off the other birds. They are mostly ground feeders, so the dove’s messy dining habits attract them.

Our favorites are the finches and bluebirds. We see house and golden finches regularly, some hanging upside down on the tube feeder extracting thistle seeds.

Bluebirds love meal worms. As soon as the dead bugs are set out, the bluebirds descend to consume them. Often as many as four are waiting their turn. Treva hopes they will inhabit our two bluebird houses, as they have in years past. Since the mealworms go into the horizontal feeder, we feared the larger birds would chase the bluebirds. Not so. When food is involved the bluebirds aggressively defend the tray against doves, four times their size.

Our efforts to photograph (and paint) the birds have failed because screens on our windows and porch interfere with the camera and our presence outside interferes with the birds.

Still, it’s enough to enjoy a morning cup of tea watching the parade of birds who come to our bird buffet.