Sunday, January 18, 2009

For the Birds--Strictly Enforced

Installing a bird feeder was one of the first things I did after we moved to Georgia just over ten years ago. The very next day I picked up a National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Birds so I could identify unknown visitors to the feeder. Now a squirrel-proof feeder for sunflower seeds and a basket for suet hang from the gutter. I watch the birds come and go from my favorite resting spot in the living room.

It was not feasible to feed the birds from my Dupont Circle apartment in D.C. Before that, I did have a feeder in the back yard of my house in Lexington. Farm land surrounded the neighborhood on three sides, and there were very few large trees in the area. Grackles and starlings were more common than anything else. Now and then I'd see cardinals, purple house finches, gold finches, and in the low, marshy part of the field behind us, red-wing blackbirds. One year a huge flock of cedar waxwings hung around long enough to pick a big holly tree free of berries.

From sunrise to sunset, we see a constant stream of birds at our feeders here in Athens. I'm forever amazed by the variety--multiple species of woodpeckers, sapsuckers, nuthatches, towhees, sparrows, thrushes, thrashers, warblers, finches, wrens, cardinals, titmice, and chickadees. Even with my bird book in hand, it's difficult to determine the exact species for many of these fast little birds. Sometimes enough birds get on the feeder to trip the squirrel prevention mechanism and nobody eats.

Besides the birds and the squirrel or two that hasn't figured out what "squirrel proof" means, our feeders do get other visitors. Chipmunks stuff their cheeks with sunflower seeds scrounged from beneath the feeders. In warmer months these cheek-fulls sprout from flower pots and other hiding places.

About this time last year, a pair of rats started visiting the feeders. At first, they climbed up the side of the house and leaped onto the feeders. Within a day or two they were coming down from the roof. For the first time in ten years, we suspended all bird feeding operations.

We have the feeders out again. Haven't seen the rats. Maybe the cats got them. I know they escaped the traps we baited with peanut butter and sunflower seeds, though a few chipmunks weren't as fortunate. Yeah...I know...they're cute. But they are incredibly destructive and faster than the fat cats in our neighborhood.

Besides, it's what you'd expect from...

The Crotchety Old Man

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