That Branch

Sometimes I look at that dead branch and wonder why I haven’t pruned it back to the  major limb that’s actually alive.  The branch belongs to a Red Tip Photinia which I planted decades ago when I was a newby gardener and knew next-to-nothing about gardening in Central Texas.  It sits near a back corner of my house and I’ve kept it because it provides evergreen coverage for the many birds who visit: those who’re migrating through and the neighborhood birds who’re making the rounds to feed, drink, and rest.  That’s why I keep the Photinia, but why the dead branch?

This is why.

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)

The branch is perfectly suited for a quick dash to or from the feeder: feeding birds snatching a snack, then retreat to the large shrub to nosh.  Sometimes the birds prefer the foliaged parts, sometimes, they’re content to perch in the open.

What I’ve learned in the decades since I plopped the Photinia into the ground is that the perfectly coiffed “yard” is not an inviting home or welcoming place for birds, bees, butterflies and other critters.  My goals in gardening have changed from those early days and I prefer plants, or plant parts, that are useful for those critters who live among us critters.

The branch will eventually break, either from a heavy wind or rain, or just because–but I won’t bring it down.  I’ll leave it for the birds until events require them to find another place to park.  

I’m happy to link today with Anna at her lovely Flutter and Hum and Wednesday Vignette; pop on over to enjoy garden stories. 

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.

Jerks.

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? 

My Little Chickadee

I can’t lay claim to any true relationship with this young Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis.  Though it isn’t my little chickadee, I confess an affection toward the little bird as it satisfied my selfish desire to observe as it perched, relatively still, and fed for a period of time, long enough for this watcher to watch. 

The neophyte chickadee sat at the feeder, nibbling at the small pieces of peanut available.  No adult chickadee would consent to spend that much time at a feeder;  adult chickadees dash and perch, grab and go.   A mature–and wary–Carolina Chickadee would dart to the feeder, and lickety-split, grab a peanut, or part of a peanut, and sprint out of clear sight to a safe place to eat.  The young chickadee’s inexperience at peanut picking allowed me to watch for several minutes, appreciating its birdie beauty, even though I also recognize that it must be more careful:  move fast or become someone’s meal. 

I observed, then realized that maybe, just maybe, I could capture some of this darling since it was spending an un-chickadee-like amount of time at the feeder.

Successful photos of a Carolina Chickadee?  That’s a rare treat for me!

To its credit, when a parent Blue Jay muscled its way onto the feeder, the young bird flit to the tree, then to the cord from which the feeder hangs, then safely to an evergreen shrub.  Once the jay was done, the chickadee settled in for more of the peanut treats. 

Chickadees’ tiny beaks are better suited for gleaning spiders and other small insects from trees and shrubs, the birds protected by cover of foliage.  Their beaks are not as well designed to quickly dismantle a hard-coated seed or good-sized peanut, especially while acting as a sitting duck at a feeder.  A wise and experienced chickadee will snatch, fly, and eat under cover–and live to raise a clutch of his or her own.

A week or so ago, I watched as an adult Carolina Chickadee zoomed in from a neighbor’s property, grabbed a nosh–sometimes a peanut, sometimes a black-oiled sunflower.  It then zoomed back in the same direction, followed immediately by another adult, completing the same set of actions.  I realized that it was a couple, working in tandem, probably feeding hungry and growing chick(s).  I don’t know if this chickadee belonged to that clutch, but I’m confident that it is young, newly experiencing a dangerous world, finding its way to food and cover. 

Fledgling birds must learn many survival skills, including making high–speed trips to feeders and lightening retreats to safety.  As they perfect those skills, my ability to easily observe diminishes–as it should. 

My little chickadee’s life depends on well-learned lessons and well-executed skills.