Hard Times for Birds

The depth of snow on the railing shows that this snowfall is only beginning. A couple of hours later, it is already about three inches deep and the flakes are still coming down. It doesn’t take long for the ground to be covered, and much of the usual food supply for birds to be hidden from sight and suddenly unavailable to them.

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Every surface, coated white

Food for birds is out of sight.

Feeders overflow with seeds,

But be careful, hawks have needs.

All the creatures need to eat

Just don’t offer songbird meat.

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“Hey! Who put that white stuff on my back?”

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Painful Panes

Today I watched as two little chickadees hit the glass pane in my deck railing. I found a candle and went outside to scribble wax all over the pane so the birds could see it better. I had thought the glass was dirty enough after all the storms so the birds could tell it was glass, but unfortunately they couldn’t. I felt just sick when one of the chickadees lay on his side and looked as if he would die shortly. His brother sat on the lower part of the railing waiting for him to come fly away with him. dscn7427

When I came outside with the candle, the chickadee who was not hit as hard flew away, but the other one stayed on the deck, lying on his side. After scribbling on the pane to prevent more casualties, I went over to the little bird. He let me pick him up. He sat in my hand and perked up a tiny bit. I thought maybe keeping him warm might help him recover. Maybe he wouldn’t die after all.

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He made a little mess on my hand but I didn’t mind. I just wanted him to live. I packed him around for about half an hour and he still didn’t want to fly. Sometimes he let his head droop and I worried that this was the end. I tucked my hand inside my vest with the cloth not touching him, so he would be warm and in the dark. Then I came in to continue writing the next chapter of my novel.

Back on the deck, I tried again to get him to fly away, but he seemed to want to cling to my finger. I paced the deck, wondering what to do. Finally I set him down in the place where his brother had waited for him. He sat there for another ten minutes. When I went to pick him up again, he chirped “Goodbye and thank you,” and off he flew. dscn7433

Maybe this winter when it’s really cold, he’ll come eat at the birdfeeder.

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Chick-a-dee-dee-dee

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One of my favourite little birds (I had to laugh at myself just then, because I have so many) is the chickadee. In our area, Vancouver Island, we have the chestnut-backed chickadee.

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See the caterpillar the mother is about to feed the babies? Yummy (not)!

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They made a nest in one of the birdhouses and I was able to get a video of them the day before they left the nest. At the very beginning of the clip the mother flies in with food, but if you blink you’ll miss it. Also you’ll hear me saying “Yeah,” to answer the Captain, who was talking to me just then. If you play it more than once it will drive you crazy.

I have Adobe Premiere Elements for editing videos but it only allows me to save clips as Adobe clips and they won’t open for anything else. Not sure how to fix it. I didn’t use my Adobe editor because of that.This is why the clip I’ve uploaded is unedited.

I apologize for the unsteady hand. I had the camera zoomed so, unfortunately, every shake is exaggerated.

Nature’s Orchestra

It’s early morning. I throw a jacket over my housecoat and take our two dogs outside. We have a big yard so there is no need to go far, but I do have to step outside with them or they would just huddle by the door and wait to be let back in the house for breakfast. All winter it has been cold, often with rain pelting down sideways in the wind. I’m always glad to get back in the house to warm up (and to do that before any early walkers see me).

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But the other day, the air was noticeably warmer. The breeze carried a scent of trees and warming earth. The warm, pink rays of the sunrise said good morning to the snow-covered hilltops. Pussywillows on the neighbour’s willow tree seemed to have opened overnight.

The sounds around me were definitely of spring. I tried to identify each one.  No more morning stillness. I heard the calls of Eurasian collared doves, flickers, towhees, chickadees, juncos, nuthatches and two other songbirds I couldn’t identify, and of course the big indicator of spring – the robin. And right after the robin’s call came the scratchy cawing of crows. They are already cruising to find the early nesting sites of the robins so they can raid them. If they don’t get the eggs, they’ll get the chicks. Good old Mother Nature will provide well for the crows, as she does every year.

In the waters of the bay below, sea lions barked to call each other over a feed of herring while the loons filled the quiet gaps with their lonely calls.

It’s like an orchestra here on some spring mornings. The songbirds are the strings,clarinets, and piccolos, while the doves are the oboes, and the loon is the flute. The sea lions are the tubas, and the crows are the brushes, tambourines, and snare drums.

And me? I guess I could be the opera singer, calling my dogs to come in now for breakfast.

 

Good Things, Small Packages

If good things come in small packages, the chickadee could be easily be the mascot for this saying. These birds seem to be everywhere, chirping and singing happily, “Chicka-dee-dee-dee.” They’re tiny. Three or four of them would easily fit into the palm of your hand. And they are almost tame enough to come and sit there. In the bird sanctuary they do just that, in hopes of getting a birdseed handout.

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My late father-in-law, Harris,  used to love hearing the chickadees. He imitated their call the way he remembered it from his younger days on the east coast (where they probably had a different variety of chickadees) – “Chicka-dee-dee-dee, chicka-paw-paw-paw.”

Here he is at the bird sanctuary where we left him near the truck while we went looking for birds, meaning to call him over when we found some. But the birds came to him while we went looking. Seems he was a bird magnet with a magic touch of his own. The chickadee had no qualms about landing on his palm to eat a bit of seed, and Harris does look thrilled.

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Take the “Bad” with the “Good”

It never fails; the good deeds done while interfering with nature can come back and bite you “you-know-where.” I don’t know if I’ll ever find a solution. I’m always wanting to get right in there to mess things up “help.” 

By now you’ve probably figured out that I love birds. Not so long ago I refilled the birdfeeders that were getting a bit low on seeds. But was it a good thing I did? 002

Today, I looked out the front door and saw a rather large bird sitting on a landscape tie just below the birdbath. My eyes said “sharp-shinned hawk” but my mind said no, it couldn’t be a hawk because it’s just sitting still like a chicken. A hawk would only sit for a split second and then move on. No point in running for the camera.

When, after about 30 seconds (a long time for a hawk to sit in the open like this), I decided to sneak upstairs to get the camera after all, it flew up. But it landed again just on the fence rail. That told me two things: it was comfortable here, and the food source was too good to pass up. I could almost hear him saying, “This is no time to be camera shy.” Or maybe he was already too fat to fly far.

Upstairs I grabbed the camera, but rather than risk having the hawk fly farther, I took a desperation shot through the window. It’s not great, but it was good enough to make an I.D. The Cooper’s hawk is very similar, but I’m pretty sure this is a sharp-shinned hawk.

The little songbirds and I are learning a hard lesson and the little guys are paying the price. I know now that when you attract animals by feeding them, you also attract their predators. I’m still learning to accept that the real world doesn’t work the way we were taught as children when we saw everything through Disney glasses that came with huge reality-blinders.

Here’s the sharp-shinned hawk. He has a beauty of his own, but my Disney glasses tell me he’s the bad bird eating the good birds.

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I think he had already eaten. He certainly didn’t look undernourished. The rest of my little chickadees, juncos, and nuthatches will also eat well from the refilled feeder. Looks like they’ll all have a Happy New Year – at least, the survivors will.

I hope you’re all survivors in the coming year, surviving little let-downs and disappointments and thriving on all the good things that come your way. Be sure to notice those good things, lest they slip away unappreciated. It’s the little things all put together that enrich our lives.

Happy New Year to all my blogging friends and followers. You rock!

Crooked Mouth and Awkward Feet

A few days ago, I was outside letting the dog out about 5:50 a.m. and interrupted a strange little bird in the birdbath. Startled, he flew away, but soon he returned and brought his lady friend. I thought they were pine grosbeaks at first, but the markings didn’t check out when I looked them up in the bird book. They were red crossbills. The males are red and the females are a slate gray with muted yellow tones.

The next day I was up early again. I got the hose to refill the birdbath and while I had the water running, the red crossbill sat on the railing of the front porch and didn’t mind me at all. The sound of water spraying must seem like rain to the birds. I stood quite still. At the feeder was a second pair of crossbills. And on the ground under the feeder were four more, a little bit smaller than the others, making me think this was a family or maybe two.

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I wish I had a better camera but with careful sneaking up and the mini-zoom on full strength, this is the best I could do. If you click on the picture it will be bigger but not clearer. I’ve just discovered that if you click to enlarge the photo, and then click again to magnify the bird, you’ll be able to see his crossed bill and his clumsy feet.

Crossbills are not rare here but they are much less common than the usual chickadees, nuthatches, towhees, and robins. As the name suggests they have a distinctive crossed bill and their feet are much like a parrot’s giving them a clown-like walk.

I’ve lived in this house for 21 years and have never seen a crossbill here, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to see a group of eight of them. I’m trying to figure out a way to hold the hose in one hand with the nozzle spraying gently, and the camera in the other hand, zooming, zooming, zooming in on their crossed bills and awkward feet. When I get it sorted out I’ll post that perfect photo on here. Meanwhile, don’t hold your breath. It could take a while.