I don’t know why I get such a kick out of watching birds at my feeders, but what can I say? I find them to be funny and charming and tenacious as they cluster around the suet or the seed. I love watching them swoop in and out.
Of course, it isn’t only chickadees and woodpeckers that come around to eat. I live at the edge of the forest. As I have learned in the past two weeks (after hanging out my winter feeders), I also live in the squirrel capital of the world.
My suet feeders are hanging in the branches outside of my house. One hangs in a lilac, the other in a flowering crabapple. I had to wire them shut to stop the squirrels from stealing the yummy, fatty, peanuty goodness right out of them. My seed feeder, pictured above, is supposedly “squirrel proof”, but all that means is that there is wire around the plastic tube (so that they can’t just chew it to pieces and eat all the seeds) and the metal cover is snapped closed (so that they can’t chew through it or pull it off and eat all the seeds.)
I now know that a “squirrel proof” bird feeder simply means that it takes a bit longer for the squirrels to scoop the seeds out one handful at a time.
But you know what?
I don’t mind at all! I know that a lot of people throw ice or stones at the squirrels. I know more than one person who shoots them when they get into the bird seed. But here’s my thought: they don’t actually know that I only want to feed the birds, not the mammals. How could they? They must all be up there in their nests, thinking, “Awesome! The local humans have put out another giant pile of food for us! You gotta love those guys!”
So when the squirrels swarm over the suet feeder and shove their little noses into the mesh to eat, all I can do is laugh. The birds have enough to share. I stand at the window, with Ellie in my arms, and we watch as the birds line up in the blueberry brambles, waiting their turns to rush in for a meal. If there are squirrels there, the birds either go to another feeder or use the other side of the feeder.
It’s hilarious to watch! The nuthatches are smart: if there is a squirrel, they land in the grass under the feeder, and eat the crumbs that fall. The woodpeckers wait, very patiently, on the sides of the pine trees, until the squirrels leave to bring goodies up to their nests. Then the woodies fly in and attack the suet with a singleminded ferocity that reminds me of teenaged boys around a hot pizza. The beautiful cardinals are skittish, waiting until the coast is perfectly clear to make an attempt at lunch.
And then there are the chickadees, who are my favorites. Fearless and unyielding, they seem unaware of their relative drabness in comparison to more beautiful birds. They fear no squirrel as they swarm the feeder, but they yield to each other as each one grabs a bite and then flies off to eat it.
I can watch this drama for hours, I really can. The squirrels on the tree trunk, hanging upside down to plunder the feeder. The birds darting in and out, fearless or cautious, getting whatever they can. Chipmunks moving around in the leaves under the trees, catching crumbs and cleaning up.
And the other day a group of turkeys joined the throng. Big, loud, awkward creatures that they are, they scared the squirrels back into the branches of the pines, where they stood and squawked in outrage. The little birds flew in and out, but the turkeys were oblivious. They pecked at the ground for three full hours, getting every speck of corn, of sunflower seed, of dropped suet. They clustered together, mumbling and bumping each other, their ugly bald heads bobbing up and down.
Ellie and I watched them on and off all day. It was a beautiful, funny, awkwardly peaceable little kingdom out there. No fights, no killing, no attacks. Just a lot of eating and a lot of chirping, gobbling and squawking.
Its worth the cost of the food just to see that some species on this beautiful earth can actually manage to share the resources and respect each other’s differences.