it’s in the details

Watching birds is a habit I learned from my mom and dad at an early age. Let’s say I was born in 1950 and now you know how early….but I am still learning wonderful things about birds today.

It helps to have built my little bird corner, with a comfortable way to watch them.

It doesn’t help to have the squirrelmafia stealing all the good food no matter what I do to foil them…but that is not what I have learned recently….that is just an ongoing soap opera between me, the squirrels and the cat.

The wonderful thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years is that cardinals seem to mate for — if not life — years. And they still court each other.

I’ve had a cardinal pair, whom I’ve dubbed Big Red and Big Mama, in my yard for more than three years now. They make nests in our front yard azaleas, use the side yard azaleas for socializing, eat at all our feeders, and don’t seem to leave at all. They have raised two sets of young that I’ve observed, and probably a couple more before I realized what was happening — I was still on the road and didn’t see them every day.

Now I have put in a flat feeder. A little square hanging platform. Like a plate.

All the birds love it, especially the various sparrows and wrens. Sometimes there will be five or six of them in it. Sometimes they just fluff out and sit there. It’s cute. It looks like they’re chatting.

I got the flat feeder mainly to attract bluebirds. And got some bluebird special food to help. None of them yet. But they are rare here. Maybe rare anywhere. (We had a couple in Raleigh, after I put a house for them in the yard.)

The painted bunting has shown up again. Third time was this morning. He likes the flat feeder, too. He and his wife were always very wary before they ducked down for seeds on the other feeders. His wife has not shown up. Unless she is already nesting and I just haven’t seen her. She is a lovely jungle green. He is bright bright red from his throat to his butt on the front, and blue and jungle green on his head, body and tail. Stunning little birds. They showed up 3 years ago, too; they fly to Central America in the winter. I don’t know if they fly together…

(The hummingbirds fly separately, not in flocks. They each fly alone to southern Mexico and Central America, across the Gulf. And return the same way. I have had some returning outliers at both feeders, but my pair from last year is not back yet. Their feeders have been out for a month. They are late.)

But here is the absolutely best thing about the new flat feeder: I watched Big Red feed Big Mama seeds the other day. Like teenagers on a date. They were both standing in the flat feeder, facing each other. She opened her mouth, and he picked up a seed and fed her. I saw them do it twice. Who knew? Bird experts, I am sure, but I didn’t.

It’s so nice to see that behavior in the wild because we forget that many birds do mate for life. As do other animals. And they still get along. Year after year. They continue to have families year after year, and kick those teenagers out in the late summer. The hawk pair that lives above our corner of the world is still here, too; still together. I watched them the other day. They are undoubtedly the reason I haven’t seen any rabbits….but, hey….life….the circle of life.

Speaking of which, I hope some of these critters are eating caterpillars, because there is a bumper crop of those guys this year. There are three different kinds, all of which look very very much like the little seed pods of the live oak trees, which are also “falling” right now. But the live oak seed pods don’t have iridescent spots. Or weight. We don’t remember them being this thick in prior years. (This is our sixth spring in the swamp.)

An update on the squirrels: they are not going anywhere and they are pretty sure the cat is no longer up to the task of making them – although he has announced his presence a couple times, in a futile show of catness. Pix attached.

The squirrel baffle I got at Tractor Supply would probably work if I could get the feeders far enough away from the tree trunk. Or, I could set up a pole in the center of the yard, but what fun would that be? I couldn’t see the birds. As well, anyway. So it’s a tradeoff. I get the feeders close to the porch, where I can read and be comfortable behind screens. And the feeders are within the squirrels’ ten foot leap radius. A few years down the road, the tree will be taller and the feeder will be further out from the trunk……#justsayin….

I’ll let you know about the painted bunting couple. Here is what he looks like – stock photo — shooting pix from behind a screen is useless, but if I walk outside….well….

I hope his wife shows up. When I was looking for a photo to share with you, I was reminded that there is an illegal trade in these birds. Especially in Cuba, which they have to overfly on their way back and forth……not pets, people.

So, filed under “things I learned in my 70s” …. cardinals are family sorts, and all the critters like the flat feeders. Feed your wife a seed when she asks for one. It seems to be the secret to a good marriage.

About Carol Joy Shannon

A former sailor of the seven seas, living in my beloved Lowcountry, between the blackwater swamps and the saltmarshes, surrounded by pre-revolutionary history.....thinking about current events....painting dinosaurs and other whimsical animals for children, with the occasional abstract or new cityscape for my delightful collectors. The best thing about being a seasoned old salt is sitting down not running around, so...
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1 Response to it’s in the details

  1. Brenda Wilson- says:

    Hey there, Carol. This is like you wrote my experiences exactly regarding the backyard birds, cats, squirrels and what not. Multiple times I have caught rat snakes and opossums in my feeders. I too discovered years ago that the flat tray like feeders attract a huge variety of birds. I keep all of my feeders fresh and full so everyone gets along and doesn’t seem to mind sharing. The bane of my existence in this context has been those darn squirrels. They are insatiable even though I put down food just for them. So this year my husband built a system for the bird feeders and bird baths that protects them from the cats and prevents, 100%, the squirrels and other unwelcome visitors from intruding on my bird feed supply/budget. I will send you some pictures of a slice of my sanctuary in a private email. I am jealous of your screened in porch though. Bug season is not far away. Then I watch from my dining room in the air conditioning.

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