Hen party

Mark Green
Mark Green

A few minutes ago, just before she began breakfast, my wife called me into the kitchen. “Look at that!” There were 36 robins in our front yard. I know, because I counted them (as well as I could, since they would not stay still for the census-taking). There were also three doves.

We have a bird feeder outside the bay window in our kitchen. Of the many different varieties of birds that we get to watch, the only ones I have seen that are consistently ground feeders are doves and robins. The doves come right up to the feeder and get what has been spilled on the ground. The robins generally stay some distance from the house.

So far I have been able to keep the blue jays shooed away. They are the schoolyard bullies of the bird world. Not so with the squirrels. With the help of Dr. James Fields, we constructed an elaborate anti-squirrel structure on the bird feeder. It worked for a while, but they inevitably found a way to get past it and we had to improvise a new deterrent. However, I have about given up trying to keep them away, especially since they are more fun to watch than the birds, anyway.

Hands down, the most beautiful birds we have seen at our feeder have been the painted buntings and their cousins, the indigo buntings. Sadly, they have not shown up for several months, and I miss them. It is interesting that my mother, who lives within hollering distance (if you have a strong voice) does not get the same kinds of birds at her feeder. She gets some beautiful brown birds with pink accents on their feathers that she thinks may be finches of some kind — but no buntings.

Communication within the bird world is an amazing thing. Evidently one of them says, “Let’s all go over to the Greens’ house and get some breakfast.” They usually come in groups according to type. For instance, at times we will be inundated with cardinals, as many as a dozen at one time. And sometimes the group will be all or mainly females. We humans joke about “hen parties” when women get together to visit. That expression might be considered to be derogatory; but it does seem to be an ornithological fact, at least within the cardinal species.

Since doves have a definite symbolic place in the Old Testament, I have been very interested in them. They come every day, and usually not alone. One day we had about 10 at the same time, although generally there will be two or three. And I have never seen them on the actual feeder, which is a wrought iron structure from which we hang little houses that hold the feed. The doves always feed on the ground around it. I love to hear their beautiful, mournful calls.

Between the two houses which hold birdseed we hang a suet block. The customers for it are generally woodpeckers, flickers, or other birds of that sort. Their beaks are suited to pecking through the mesh to extract the fat. Birds are high energy animals and suet provides a lot of calories.

One thing I have learned from the birds is that “eternal vigilance is the price of safety.” Generally there will be one peck, then the head comes up and the birds look around. They may be hungry, but not so much that they forget to be watchful, which is a lesson that we humans should learn. Better hungry than dead.