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Open Range: Admiring acrobatic birds

Open Range: Admiring acrobatic birds

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With luck, this should be my last bird-watching column for a while. I’ve finally been able to shovel a narrow path clear down to the grass in the backyard. This bodes well for expanding my range – as well as my range of subjects. I may even get as far as seeing neighbors!

Meanwhile, I owe the birds a debt of gratitude (which I am paying for with mountains of seeds and suet) for entertaining me these past months.

Yesterday, for example, I looked out the window and saw a magpie “planted” head down in the deep snow. Only a bit of its rump and all of its tail showed and it wasn’t moving. Before I could rush out and rescue it, (can you give a bird CPR?) it extricated itself, holding a chunk of suet which had broken off from the feeder hanging above in the crabapple tree. It flew off, and its place was taken by a small flock of “LBJs” (Little Brown Jobbers) who disappeared into the hole the magpie had emerged from. They popped back out, each with a tiny suet trophy. There is, by the way, no such bird as a Little Brown Jobber. When I was first learning about birds I was told that there were LBJ’s, BBJ’s and OCB’s – otherwise known as little brown jobbers, big brown jobbers and other color birds. It’s amazing how birds which appear to be a drab brown when seen at a distance seem to blossom into color when seen up close or through binoculars.

Red-shafted flickers are pretty good acrobats. One was feasting on the suet from one side while it kept its balance by pressing its tail against the opposite side.

There’s a little downy woodpecker which keeps a sharp eye out for the flicker, and as soon as the larger bird flies off, the downy snatches a snack.

Each time a large bird pecks at the tasty blend of seeds and fat, the upper branches of the tree are noisy with small birds announcing that leftovers are on the way.

You’ve probably heard a flag flapping wildly on a windy day. The ground feeders – mostly sparrows – swarm in by the dozens, grab a seed or two and suddenly fly off. The rush of all those tiny wings sounds like a snapping flag.

Hmm… The woodpeckers are gone. So, for that matter, are all the other birds which were here moments ago. I don’t think they’ve been scared off, however, because there is a lot of chirping going on in the caragana hedge. It gets very quiet when a hawk or a neighbor’s cat is in the territory. Hang on. I’ll go take a look…

Ah! They’re down in the May tree, vociferously complaining because I’ve let the feeders in that tree run out.

The May tree is frequented by nuthatches and an occasional brown creeper. Nuthatches have a funny call – it sounds a little like someone is squeezing a rubber duck. Brown creepers are easy to miss, especially on my ash trees which have such deeply crenelated bark that the tiny birds can fit inside the gaps. One of my first bird-watching lessons was that “creepers creep up and nuthatches creep down.”

My personal experience is that they all creep away as soon as they see I have my camera.


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