As the local-food movement continues to gain speed, this fashionable trend appears to be rejected by an unexpected group of diners: local birds. During a time when thrushes, blue jays, woodpeckers, etc. should be scarfing down bugs, seeds, berries and all the other fresh meat and veg that is in my yard, they are instead hitting my seed and suet feeders with a frequency and force usually not seen until the winter. Only the hummingbirds are ignoring the feeders preferring to take a sip from the flowers of hostas, geraniums or fuchsias.
Early in the morning, groups of American Goldfinches perch nearby waiting for their turn at the seed bar. It's like my tiny feeder is a trendy Brooklyn bistro where its denizens wait in line indefinitely for a taste of new found ambrosia. But unlike such establishments, the eaters are impatient to the point of mutual abuse where they will hover, peck, and push competition off a seat to feed. Perhaps it is not all that different.
A Concolor fir, an overgrown rhododendron and a white spruce are the staging areas for the birds. They arrive in waves appearing as mobile ornaments on this evergreen trio. There is often a finch, either red, green or yellow, on the top of the fir overseeing the feast waiting for its time to munch. The goldfinches are my favorites (and Charlotte's too as they are yellow) but the diverse dining clientele of chickadees, sparrows, wrens, thrushes and other summer residents keep the feeder an interesting place to watch.
In the feeder there are only sunflower kernels, something that I put out in summers past that had been greeted with indifference. This year, however, the feeder gets cleaned out nearly every day. And if it is not refilled promptly and before I get the paper at the end of the driveway, I am mobbed as a reminder that a job is at hand.
The suet feeder attracts a different set of patrons: blue jays, wrens, robins, cardinals, nuthatches, and, of course, woodpeckers. The woodpeckers somewhat monopolize suet: a tasty combination of rendered beef fat, milo, corn, millet and sunflower parts as its base. Berry blast cakes add berry flavoring to the mix while Peanut Butter Surprise adds the element of peanut parts to the special blend. I try to mix up the types as no chef wants their customers to become complacent or bored with their meal.
In the winter, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers as well as Northern flickers dine al fresco, but now it is just the downy variety that feeds. It's making up in numbers for the lack of variety, however, as five or six fight for the right to grab the suet grill and snatch a beak full of yummy fat.
Each acts as would a tiny jackhammer pounding away at the rendered mass letting bits fly. A smooth flat square of food becomes a pockmarked mess within a few hours. One hopes that they keep their beaks within the square grill so they do not smash against the metal, an avian equivalent of biting one's own tongue.
Sometimes two birds will share the suet, but unlike the more social birds around the sunflower feeder, these birds prefer to eat alone. And when the feeder is empty, they let me know with a constant tap-tap-tap on the side of my house. If I wait too long, more than one will chime in leading to a holey symphony of percussionists looking for their next hand out (or slab of fat.)
Carefully watching over these two feeders is a third that used to serve up thistle seeds: now it is the home for a family of house wrens. When I looked to put seeds in this feeder a few months back, instead of rotting seeds, I found 7 tiny blue eggs and a very agitated bird. So I left it alone keeping an ear out for the babies. They came not once but twice to us this summer in separate broods. We saw the parents shuffle in and out during their gestation and more frantically after they hatched with food in beak.
But unlike their feathered neighbors, they fed infrequently on either the sunflower seeds or suet. Each took off for parts unknown and brought back bugs and other tasty seasonal fare for their babies. I guess we all take better care of our children than we do of ourselves. After all you wouldn't give a potato chip or Oreo to your newborn, would you?
As Labor Day fades, the birds are beginning to change. The first pine siskins have arrived. And the other day I saw a bluebird, which usually visits us in the winter, grab a sunflower seed snack. With fall and winter in the wings, I know that a single bird feeder won't do.