Column: Customer change at the feeders

Published 12:24 pm Thursday, May 18, 2006

By Staff
One of the things we really looked forward to when moving from town to country last fall was the anticipated change in the types of birds hitting our feeders.
City birds are okay but after years of the samo-samos they become pretty boring. With a creek running through the yard, a pond beside the house and forest all around we figured just about every bird species known to science would be lining up at the feeders. We even entertained thoughts of the occasional dodo bird or pterodactyl stopping in for a snack. Our first winter, though, was somewhat disappointing. Our customers weren't all that much different, cardinals, chickadees, red bellied and downy woodpeckers, goldfinches, juncos, nuthatches and titmice just like in town. The only real change was the swapping of urban house sparrows and house finches for tree sparrows and song sparrows.
As spring came, though, our customer base began to change. The juncos packed their bags and headed to their far north summer grounds. As if to take up the vacated space chipping sparrows began showing en masse. You can't help but like these tiny, perky fellows with their brilliant rust colored berets. Then came the bluebirds. Not many, just one now and then. They would check out the suet blocks from time to time but apparently couldn't see the attraction. It was the nightcrawlers in the lawn that enamored them.
Though we had plenty of downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers right from the start I never grow tired of them. The downies really crack me up. The guys are unassuming gents, bothering no one and getting along with everyone. The downy gals, though, are surly wenches. They constantly squabble and fight while the guys watch the ruckus with an annoyed expression like, “Come on gals, knock it off. You're interrupting my dinner.” The red-bellies hold no ill will toward anyone but with their robust size when they bomb in to the suet blocks the downies usually scatter in a panic. “Whew! Man, for a second I thought that was a hawk.”
It seems like almost overnight the tree and song sparrows that came in droves all winter disappeared. Magically in their place were white-chinned and white-capped sparrows. These we rarely saw in town. The timid white-chinneds came first followed by the larger white-capped. I have to marvel at the white-capped's namesake helmet striping. It is the whitest white imaginable, even whiter than fresh snow on a sunny January morning. Eventually the red-winged blackbirds that rule the pond and creek discovered the boundless wonders of the feeders, too. These guys are real bullies. They dive in with scarlet epaulets flared to the max. Anyone that doesn't take them seriously gets a sharp beak in the backside.
The first really major event was the arrival of towhees, the guys decked out in black suit, white shirt and orange suspenders. We never had these in town. Another major event was the rose breasted grosbeaks, especially the males. Their black and white tuxedo and rosy pink bib is a most stunning outfit. They apparently aren't the sharpest tool in the shade, though. If we move too close to the patio doors the other birds scatter but not the grosbeaks. They just give us a, “Don't bother me now, can't you see I'm eating” look. All the other birds have amazing reaction times, all disappearing in a flash whenever any one bird panics. Not the rosies. As the others scatter they just look around with a confused expression, “Duh, what happened? Where'd everyone go?”
One of our favorite new arrivals is indigo buntings, all aglow like a neon blue light. I've seen them from a distance but I never realized how tiny they really are. And speaking of tiny, once the first hummingbird found the nectar feeder he spread the word. Now there's a steady stream coming and going from dawn to dark. I may have to put up a traffic light to prevent collisions. And finally, just today a pair of orioles found the orange halves wedged into the feeder perches and are doing their best to clean them up in a single day.
I like this new customer base. Carpe diem.