10 July 2014

The Birds and the... Grown-Up Kids

For several years now, my husband has been coaxing the woodland birds and animals into our back yard.

Multiple bird feeders hang on poles protected by squirrel baffles, so the squirrels don't eat all the bird seed (and/or break the bird feeders). But have no fear - the squirrels and chipmunks are well-fed too, as we put food for them in small bowls around the yard.

And we wonder why the squirrels ate all our tulips a couple of months ago. Ah well, they leave most of the flowery buffet alone, so I guess we can't complain too much. Besides, we INVITE them here with all the food.

So.

A whole plethora of birds visits our yard. Blue jays, chickadees, robins, sparrows, finches, titmice (titmouses? titmeeses?), warblers, hummingbirds, phoebes, and various others that aren't as exciting, like grackles, crows, and doves.

For us, the biggest thrills have been the woodpeckers and the cardinals.

The cardinal couple is elusive and shy, but the woodpeckers have all but taken over the place. And there isn't just one variety. Daily, we see downy woodpeckers and their larger cousins, the hairy woodpeckers, all of which love to visit our suet cages.

They seem to have a pattern to their madness. First we'll see (or usually hear) them on a nearby tree at the edge of our lawn. Their chirp is single and loud, much like a chipmunk chirp. After a few chirps, they swoop to the suet and set the cage swinging. Like the jays, they don't seem to mind flapping and making a racket as they arrive, while many of the other birds are more subtle. Especially the cardinals.

For years now, we've enjoyed watching these proud, funny, confident birds, and over the years, they seem to have gotten more used to our presence. Sometimes if we have to walk right past where they're feeding, they'll fly to the nearest tree and fuss at us until we're gone, but more often than not, they just ignore us.

So this year, about a week ago, I was sitting at my desk like I am now, facing one of the back windows. Just outside the window is one of the suet cages, not ten feet from where I sit. I heard a woodpecker chirping so I looked up and watched as a downy swooped in and all but crashed into the pole holding the suet. It held on to the pole and slid down to the squirrel baffle, where it then fell to the ground. After much flapping and chaos, it flew back up and managed to grab the suet this time.

The next day, I saw a similar sight, but this time with two half-witted woodpeckers. Both seemed comfortable flying, but the landing process still needed work. This is when I realized they were probably babies that had recently left the nest.

We kept our eyes open for them over the weekend and sure enough, they were all over the yard, chirping and running into each other and failing at landing, and having many near misses with trees, bushes, and even the house.

Then yesterday I glanced out the window to see not two but THREE woodpeckers all hanging on the suet cage. Another baby? No, this time, one very calm woodpecker was plucking pieces off the suet and putting it in the mouths of the grown babies. Ah yes, Mom to the rescue.

It was a precious site - to see those two young ones huddling around their mother waiting to be fed, even though it was clear they were big enough to fly and feed themselves. She was so patient. And unselfish.

My first thought was, "Aww, she trusts us! She raised her babies in OUR YARD!" But then I realized it just happens to be where she lives and where a reliable food source can be found.

It reminded me of conversations I have with friends who, like me, have grown children, or children in college or just finishing high school. They are as big as we are, if not bigger, and they can drive, work, vote, and pretty much do all the things we do. Yet they often live with us and expect us to feed them and care for them just as we did when they were small.

I suppose growing up isn't easy for anyone; mother, father, grown-up child, or woodpecker!

Copyright © 2014 - Paulla Estes

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