The birds in my backyard, in winter, are magical. I don’t mean that there are some weird Harry Potter birds soaring around back there – but for what’s showing up at my bird feeder, the amount of them, and the way they work together – it has to be magic; unless birds are way more sophisticated than we’ve always assumed?
And they are. So it’s not magic.
Yeah, I’m kind of bummed out too. I thought that I was seeing some secret force at work – but that’s a silly human thought. Turns out birds really do have some sort of social hierarchy system in place – one that might be the basis for the term “pecking order”.
Anyway. Enough about the official stuff – let me tell you what I see out my kitchen window; what stops me in my tracks and has me staring out into the woods as if I was frozen in time:
The Nuthatches show up first; generally right after the sun comes up. They hit the feeder as the front line and will continue to ping that feeder to see if the other creatures about – including myself and the cat – are there to compromise the mission.
Depending on the day, these Nuthatches may be joined by Black-Capped Chickadees. There’s no real schedule to when they come around – I think they just stop by if they’re in the area. Today they are here and they brought all their friends – flying through the air like dolphins swim through water; that repetitive swoop-swoop.
Once it’s confirmed that I’m just here to watch in awe, and the cat can’t get through the glass, the Blue Jays show up. First the females – then the males. And then they take right off. They may hit the feeder once or twice, but then they are gone – and I mean out of sight; back into the thick of the woods.
It’s around this time that the male Cardinals make their presence known. But they’re here to observe – like fluffy, vibrant red centurions sitting stoically on branches that shouldn’t be able to hold their heft. At the beginning of winter, there was only one male and one female Cardinal in the yard, but in the few weeks since, that number has more than quadrupled.
Then the Song Sparrows arrive. They’re slight and bold and will stay at the feeder to crack the shells off of anything in the dish that has a shell around it. If I’m not paying attention, they’re generally what clues me into the action – as you can hear them tap-tap-tapping the shells open. They also could care less who’s on the other side of the glass.
Sometimes, but not all the time – this is where the Tufted Titmouse joins the party. Like the Song Sparrows, they are bold and will hang around the edge of the feeder and crack shells. They aren’t as bold as the Song Sparrows, however – and take off once they realize there’s someone on the other side of the glass.
Because they’re so brazen, the Nuthatches and Chickadees tend to come back for another round of feeding while the Song Sparrows are on guard; as if the Sparrows are going to defend them against a greater force.
All of this happens in the span of a fifteen to twenty minutes – and it goes without saying; the more food the merrier. But this isn’t the end of the show. After everyone else eats and makes sure the coast is clear; the Queen takes the stage:
Enter the female Cardinal…
She may actually be made of magic and mystery – because it’s insanely difficult to explain her coloring and do it justice: a mix of tan and grey with a yellow breast – splashed with red on her wings and under her tail feathers. She’s smaller than her old man, but they’re both robust – and it’s more than obvious that she’s the boss.
In fact, he – the male Cardinal – never comes to the feeder. He watches. He waits. He makes sure everyone eats and is safe. He eats seeds off the ground. But it’s totally obvious that it’s the female that calls the shots in their household and kingdom – for once she flies away – they’re all gone again…
A little bit about birds and all this bird business: I am not a bird watcher at heart. I have always been fascinated by birds and have kept a running tally of what I have seen over time, but I get all of my info from:
A service offered through Cornell University, The Cornell Lab Of Ornithology is an informative nucleus of information which includes an expanded database of birds throughout the world. Their app, Merlin Bird ID can be downloaded on your phone and deployed instantly for your next bird watching adventure.
All of the pictures of these birds come from The Cornell Lab Of Ornithology and should be considered their property.