I guess this post could be renamed Stand Your Feeder but that doesn’t quite resonate. None of these birds are on the ground–standing or otherwise–one is eating at the feeder, the other two are waiting their turn. In this bit of bird drama, it’s the younger fledgling Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, who’s in control, thwarting efforts to dislodge him and ignoring back chat from the the European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, to the left, and the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, on top of the feeder stand. The Red-bellied is munching away at sought-after peanuts as the two adult birds caw and carp.
Bird feeders are hot spots of conflict where birds demonstrate their more aggressive tendencies, protecting their food source(s) and trash talking one another. Feeders invite a microcosm of natural competition that most of us don’t observe regularly, unless we notice the wildlife in our midst.
Here, the juvenile Red-belly responds to the impatient grown-ups regarding their insistence that he hurry up his snacking.
Teenagers. They always talk back!
In an Audubon article Who Wins the Feeder War, the authors describe the “Hunger Games-like world” regularly seen by humans who feed local birds. From observations by Project FeederWatch and Great Backyard Bird Count participants, the authors share surprising results of feeder interactions between paired birds, noting the winners and losers. It’s a bird-eat-bird world out there, as they report a FeederWatch citizen scientist’s observation of a grackle’s catching and eating chickadees to prevent their muscling-in (can chickadees muscle-in?) on his feeder. It’s not necessarily the bigger bird who wins the feeder war, but the bird who has the more aggressive personality–or more formidable beak. The authors confirm the tenacious character of a diminutive Downy Woodpecker, Dryobates pubescens, who often rules the roost–which I’ve witnessed in my own garden–and recounts a confrontation between a Red-bellied Woodpecker and the larger Pileated Woodpecker: the Red-belly is the victor. In my garden, a similar scenario played out recently: the younger and smaller Red-bellied Woodpecker kept the adult starling and jay at bay, while the teen noshed his fill. Who’d want to get pecked by that beak??
I participate in both FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count, but I admit to not always noting the bird interactions that occur. Woodpeckers are shy, but once on the feeder, demand respect; Yellow-rumped Warblers harass Orange-crowned Warblers; hummingbirds chase everyone, including butterflies; White-winged Doves are stupid. And they stomp around on my plants.
Back to the peanut rumpus, the starling finally gave up and winged away, but the jay was determined to feed and wait out the woodpecker, complaining to all who would listen and it’s not like we had a choice.
After several minutes of nibbling, the youngster snatched a full peanut and shortly after this shot, flew to the nearby oak tree to enjoy his treat. The chastened blue jay was a bit gormless for a time, eventually hopping to the feeder for its share of the peanut booty.
Who needs The Hunger Games or Survivor (or American politics…) when you’ve got birds in the garden, strutting their stuff and showing who’s boss?