Column: Country birds are different
Published 7:45 pm Thursday, October 20, 2005
Wife and I have finally moved into the country after much too long in town. As you would suspect, our biggest joy in this new place is making acquaintance with the local wildlife. At first there wasn't a lot going on. The four geese calling our pond and stretch of creek in the back yard home readily welcomed us. The small bands of goldfinches making a living in the large, dense stand of witch grass east of the house tolerated our invasion reasonably well, too. The few sparrows around seemed to be indifferent with the whole affair. I can't say the same for the wood ducks rafting up and down the creek, though. The slightest movement in the window and they take to wing with indignant squeals.
That lasted for about a week and a half. Then a few days ago the weather cooled and the whole place came alive. Flocks of yellow rumped warblers fleeing the chill ascending on their far north home stopped by for a lay over. Robins, cowbirds and red-wing blackbirds showed up in droves. A few juncos have just moved in for the winter. Our year around neighbors, blue jays, flickers, hairy, downy and three toed woodpeckers, chickadees and cardinals are now showing themselves. So far only a few goldfinches and juncos are taking advantage of the diverse plethora of newly sprouted bird feeders but when fall's natural bounty is gone I'm sure the feeders will be much more appreciated.
One thing I find most interesting is that, like people, country birds behave much differently than their city dwelling brethren. It's just the opposite of humans, though. With people it's the city folks that are driving themselves bonkers and bouncing off the walls. It seems the bigger the city the tighter people are wired and the more frantic they race around. Out in the country the old farmers still drive their pickups at half the speed limit, lean on fence posts to chat about the weather and take the time to sit down to a real meal. I've never given it any thought before, but city birds are the laid back ones. Sparrows and house finches lounge around in the bushes for hours, that is, when they're not shoulder to shoulder at the feeders. Robins lazily hop about the yard with no worries. Goldfinches hang on the thistle feeders by the dozens with only an occasional minor tiff.
In the bird world it's the country birds that are like pop corn on a hot fire. The warblers flit about constantly like the bushes are electrified. Robins don't loll around in the yard casually searching for tidbits. They buzz around here, there and everywhere like F-16 fighter jets in a dog fight. These country juncos don't hang out under the feeders meticulously sorting out the choicest morsels. They slip in like they think they're thieves, snatching up whatever they can get in a scoop or two and disappearing just as quickly. And those goldfinches in town that literally covered the thistle bags like a swarm of bees? Not out here. There's no good will sharing. Whoever's toughest at the moment lays claim to the bounty. If another finch wants a spot on the bag he has to fight for it. It's no dainty shoving match, either. They often fall to the ground locked together like brawling loggers.
When you think about it, this different behavior should be expected. City birds have few worries. There's only the odd coopers hawk or inept cat to cause bodily harm. Food is everywhere. If you don't like the menu at this feeder, go down the block to see what's the seed du jour at the next one. A country bird lives by a hard set of rules. Hanging out in the open is playing Russian roulette. If he so much as slows down he becomes someone else's lunch. He can trust no one. Without a feeder at every corner he has to search long and hard for whatever he can get and then fight to keep it. The idyllic country life is only for us humans. Wildlife doesn't have that luxury. Carpe diem.