Saturday, December 10, 2011

December 10: Feeder Etiquette

When I'm working on the laptop on my couch, I can see the kitchen window, where we have a small window bird feeder. (I also just hung next to it a seed-covered house that I was given as a gift.) This afternoon as I'm typing away, I was distracted by a flurry of activity at the feeder, which has otherwise been fairly quiet the past few weeks. All of a sudden, three house finches, a small flock of goldfinches, and several chickadees and titmice are all jockeying for position in the feeder. Some are even landing on and pecking at the seed house.

Thrilled to have some birds to look at rather than my computer screen, I sneak out to the kitchen to get a closer look. The different behaviors among the species--the feeder etiquette (or lack thereof)--can be fascinating. Chickadees and titmice usually fly in, grab a seed, then fly off. They don't seem to mind if other birds are in the feeder, although the larger titmouse will sometimes scare off a chickadee. The house finches are usually vocal, and often in pairs. Today there's one male-female pair, and then an extra male. The two males do not want to be in the feeder together, and each time they meet, they flutter at one another till one flies off. But the funniest to watch are the goldfinches, the smallest of all. Not only are they completely brazen about going in the feeder with other birds, but if a goldfinch is in the feeder first, it opens its bill at other birds in what's clearly an aggressive gesture, driving them away. Other goldfinches are fine--four or five often cluster in and on the feeder--but a house finch and a chickadee are both scared off by a bird almost half their size.

Meanwhile, in the background, a squirrel runs along the top of the fence with its mouth stuffed full of leaves. It must be bolstering its nest up in the willow tree just over the fence in our neighbor's yard.

After about ten minutes of this activity, the birds move on, and it's been quiet ever since. I'm thankful I paid attention when I did.

Grab one seed quickly
or linger, hog the feeder.
Afternoon traffic.

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