20 years ago we bought a lovely home in fashionable north Raleigh, did some fixup, then worked hard to boost the ratings of an inherited series of bird feeders. We began work on a 12’ high clothesline strung between two trees with loops from which to hang feeders. There was a suet feeder nailed to a tree near us. The feeders were in poor condition so we improved them to handle more chow and to keep the seeds within closer to dry. We experimented with various seeds and suet, and soon our guests became more frequent and ever hungrier. For many years Kat and I participated in The Backyard Birdcount every February. Our job (and yours if you sign up) is to spot, identify, and report the birds seen nearby on just one weekend.
We saw many spectacular birding sights. My favorite came in Birdcount as I watched through a bank of windows in our den: it was a merlin, a slim, fast, acrobatic and uncommon predator who came spiraling down from on high, its eye on somebody we knew on one of our feeders. Our customer spotted the merlin in time to save himself. Despite his incredible descent speed, the merlin swooped out of his power dive without hitting the ground, and climbed back into the heavens almost as fast as he dove. It was an amazing sight.
Another favorite came in late spring. Ceiling fans were enough, the windows were open, and our home had a lot of shade. A downy woodpecker was working on some suet in the tree feeder. As I watched Mr. Downy work we both heard the distinct cry of a red-tailed hawk zooming toward the same suet. I recognized that war cry, but the downy flashed away quicker than my brain thought “HAWK”. The raptor lit on the suet and chowed down. This raptor was blue and white, and too small to be a red-tail. Here was an Eastern Blue Jay who learned to imitate badder birds to drive others off their feed, uncontested.
Today I added a birding memory. It happened because of my relationship to The Great Spirit (see our blog Bugger, April 2018, and a vision-conversation with him in American Indian Museum, November 2019). TGS hates for us to waste resources, especially food. He wants me to offer our unused leftovers to his other creatures. TGS understands people vs. bears and why I won’t throw bones or a couple bites of a hamburger into the woods in bear country. But in south Louisiana, the biggest, non-speaking predators are raccoons and opossums. Here I often fling out scraps as wildlife food. Last week I grilled jumbo shrimp. Yesterday Kat asked about three semi-dessicated leftover shrimp. I carefully tossed them into the grass around our site.
Somehow a tufted titmouse flew one of those big shrimp onto a small branch in his favorite tree. Their diet is normally bugs, seeds, and when they find a feeder, suet. Now, he and his mate are taking turns pecking up barbecued shrimp goodness. They don’t like for us to watch, but with the weather cold and food scarce, the nuthatches put up with us. Kat’s pictures are as close to proof as we can provide. But I admit, in the future, I may hang a small boiled shrimp on their tree.
He sleeps a lot, but I’ve heard no objections from The Great Spirit.