Stand Your Ground

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.

The little Red-belly wins the moment–and the peanuts!

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. 

In my head, I hear Nelson (‘The Simpsons’) obnoxious laugh when I see this teenage  Red-belly looking up at the interfering adults.  I wish that laugh wasn’t in my head.

Teenagers.  They always talk back!

In an Audubon article Who Wins the Feeder Warthe 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.

One down, one to go!

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? 

19 thoughts on “Stand Your Ground

  1. Very nice photos to accompany your narrative. I really like woodpeckers but they seldom come to my feeders. Maybe in time. I happen to have a peanut feeder the same as yours This is a crazy question- but do you feed raw or roasted peanuts? I didn’t have any raw back in the spring when I once again began feeding the birds. I put out some roasted ones that I’d had for a few months. The birds pecked away on them and then rain came and the nuts molded and I had to empty the feeder. I have not restocked that feeder and took it down for a while. Currently, I am feeding black oil sunflower and white millet in two other feeders with lots of chickadees, titmice and doves coming to eat.


      • I haven’t seen any titmice. The wrens divide their time between the dried mealworms and the no-mess blend I put in the platform feeders. There are tiny bits of peanut in that, so they might be eating that rather than the larger peanuts.

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    • Thanks! I’ve fed both raw and roasted; what I have now is roasted. I bring my feeders in if it rains and so far, they finish the peanuts before any mold develops, so that hasn’t been a problem. But, you’re correct to throw it out–mold in any seed can sicken birds.

      I only have three feeders: the peanut (which I’ve only used for a bit over a year; one for black-oiled sunflowers (which I’ve had for a long time), and I also have a safflower seed feeder, which all the little birds really like. In winter, I hang commercial suet for the warbler and a few other.

      I never had woodpeckers come to feeders until I started offering peanuts–they’re big fans!

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  2. What a fun description of the interactions. I wish I had more space to put up another shepherd’s crook. I think my feeders are too close together. If I took down my windchimes, I’d have another hook available, but I don’t want to do that. I do finally have plenty of finches and chickadees coming to the tube feeder, and the platform feeders always are filled with birds. Beware, when the young starlings show up! Talk about bullies — they qualify.

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    • Oh, I know about the starlings! Interestingly, in years past, the starlings show up in late winter, hang around and are obnoxious in spring, but are gone by mid-June. Good riddance. This year? They’re still around! I suspect it’s that there are now several people near me who are feeding birds, whereas in the past, I was the only provider. I think they’ve just got a good thing going. I take down the peanut feeder if I notice starling activity, but it’s getting old. They really are bullies, but I’ll give them credit: their plumage is beautiful in the sunlight!

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  3. I’ve had to take the one seed feeder down every evening recently to precent local raccoons from emptying it out. There’s a squirrel as well who has mastered the art of hanging upside down parallel to the feeder to access the seed. I open the patio door noisily and it runs off. I chase it further away, lather, rinse, repeat. It’s a BIRD feeder you guys!

    We have a mixed mini-flock of chickadees and titmice that constantly vie for prime seating. As they tend to grab a seed and run it makes for a lot of fly-bys. I moved the hummingbird feeder to the other side of the house but they still harass everything in the air, especially each other. What I didn’t predict when I placed the feeders in view of the living room windows (we discovered if they were close enough it prevented birds flying/smacking into the window) was how difficult it would be to watch TV or read when my peripheral vision was constantly noting the bird traffic. I consider it a most pleasant “problem”.


    • Raccoons and squirrels: pains in the back side! I don’t generally have problems with the raccoons on my feeders, but squirrels are accomplished at high-wire walking. I purchased some Cole’s hot pepper sauce (DO NOT breath that stuff or get it into your eyes!) and that’s fixed their fixation. I will toss out some peanuts if I see a squirrel nosing around the patio. We’ve become friends. Sort of.

      Isn’t it cute how the chickadees and titmice hang out together? Mine don’t squabble, but seem to feed in tandem, sharing the feeder. As for the hummers, I don’t have a feeder because they prefer what’s planted, but they still chase one another. I know it’s part of their DNA and amusing to watch, but it seems such a waste of energy.

      As for your bird watching distraction–it’s so much better than what’s on TV or in the news, yes?

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  4. I spend a lot of time watching bird drama. The best summer was when a parakeet showed up. That bird had no idea of pecking order and really upset the Blue Jays. I also have my “regulars” and they do not like it when migrating birds show up. Right now I’m enjoying the silly juveniles.


    • Haha–those out-of-the-loop birds really mess up things, don’t they? I get the Austin Monk Parakeets from time-to-time, but they never hang around for long. Yes, the juveniles are fun to watch. Goofballs.

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  5. I live in the Houston Area and I have seen an explosion of blue jays this year. They’ve of course always been around, but it just seems like they took over this year. We have a giant water oak in our backyard and a pair of juvenile Mississippi Kites have taken to hanging out in it. All of the other birds calm down and avoid the area… except for the blue jays! 🙂


  6. I wonder whether anyone’s done the experiment of putting up way more feeders than local birds could possibly need—say a hundred feeders in an area of a few hundred feet by a few hundred feet—to see if the birds still act territorial.


    • I can only imagine the amount of bird excrement. Oh, that makes my head hurt. 🙂

      You might be onto something. I know that I’ve seen nature show (bears hunting salmon as they swim, comes to mind) where there’s such a glut of good food, that all the predators play nice.

      I don’t think I’ll try that experiment. All that bird poop…


  7. I have noticed confrontations at the feeders and also for access to the bird baths (mainly robins v. robin). Fortunately I have never seen a larger bird eat a chickadee! But it does seem clear that there is a lot of aggression used to control access to the feeders, both within and between species.


    • I don’t see any real aggression at the bird baths, but sometime a bird will land and its neighbor hops to the side. But yes, they squabble over the feeders, the starlings being the most obnoxious. If I’m able, I remove the feeder when I see the starlings. I hate those birds.

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  8. I love them all, starlings too. They all have such individual personalities and ways of making their way … always fun to learn about them as they come and go. ~Enjoy your writing and photos very much. Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to more.


    • Thanks so much! I agree that they all are such individuals and so interesting to watch. I don’t like the starlings, but certainly admire their tenacity and intelligence. I appreciate your following!

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