Bedside Birding

House Finch_1977r3

They’re just House Finches. How often have I thought that? House Finches are everywhere. They were the first birds to my feeders, the day we moved into our house, and they’re still the most frequent visitors. How interesting could they be?

It’s been over a week now since I bent over—just slightly, carefully—and did… something… to my lower back. I’ve done this before. I know the routine. Cold packs, ibuprofen, not too much bed rest, patience. I’m healing, but it seems to be slower this time. And while I’ve been able to hobble around the house, bent over in pain, I’ve had to spend most of the last week in bed.

Our bedroom window looks out on my collection of bird feeders—suet, sugar water, nyjer “thistle,” and black oil sunflower seeds attract a variety of different species, and a shallow birdbath entices even more. I’ve spent more time looking at birds than I have in ages. After all, you can only read so many books.

Downy Woodpecker_Cherry Creek SP-CO_LAH_2555We’ve lived here two years now. When we moved in, ours was the only occupied house in a new neighborhood. Our lot was totally barren; not even weeds grew in the compacted dirt. Now we have landscaping, and neighbors with landscaping. Until this past week, I hadn’t realized how many birds had moved into the area.

The suet feeder attracts Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers, but also magpies. They can’t seem to perch on the cylindrical cage, so instead they fly up and give the cake a quick jab. This is enough to break off a few small crumbs, which are quickly nabbed from the ground below. It seems a laborious way to eat suet, but it sure is entertaining.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird_BlkForest-CO_LAH_6054Last year I only had one hummingbird, for one day. This year I have some steady customers. They must be nesting nearby. I’ve put out two feeders, widely separated to reduce competition. I’m hoping that will keep my hummers around until the flowers bloom. I’ve planted agastache, Bee Balm (Monarda), penstemons, honeysuckle, and other hummer favorites. Meanwhile, it’s fun to watch the males try to claim both feeders at once, spending more time chasing off intruders than actually drinking the nectar.

Lesser Goldfinch_BCNC_LAH_6460At our previous house, only a couple of miles away, Lesser Goldfinches were one of my most frequent visitors. Here, I didn’t get a single one last year, in spite of offering plenty of fresh nyjer seed. Apparently, they just didn’t discover the feeder. Last week I saw my first goldfinch, and now I have at least three—two males and a female—making the round every evening. I hadn’t realized how much I missed these cheerful yellow birds. They seem wary, skittish. I have to be careful not to make any sudden movements near the window, or they fly off into the scrub oak next door. Maybe that’s why it took so long for them to show up in our yard.

House Finch_BlkForest_20100424_LAH_3257On the other hand, the House Finches are bold and assertive. Not only do they crowd the feeder full of black oil sunflower seeds, they hog the nyjer feeder, do their best to extract sugar water from the hummingbird feeder, and monopolize the bird bath. I’ve even had them cling to the window screen, curiously trying to peer into the bedroom. This being June, the females are flirting, coyly crouching and fluttering their wings at the males, just as a fledgling would do. In return, the males offer tidbits of food, demonstrating their ability to provide for a family. I’m sure that in a month or so we’ll have mom and dad bringing the kids around, showing them where the buffet is.

I’ve added a number of species to my yard list. Red-winged Blackbirds (thankfully only one or two) and Common Grackles swing by to grab a seed or two, but they don’t hang around. At least one Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay (previously known as the Western Scrub Jay) digs through the sunflower seeds, perhaps hoping to find a peanut. He makes a mess, flinging seed left and right, then finally gathers up a crop-full and flies away. I don’t know if he’s stashing them or eating them. Twenty minutes later, he’s back for more.

Mourning Dove_SanPedroHouse-AZ_LAH_4370The spilled seed attracts ground feeders—Rock Pigeons, Eurasian Collared-doves, Mourning Doves all come in pairs but I’ve only seen a male Spotted Towhee so far. I wonder if his mate is sitting on a nest somewhere. I suppose I could put out millet, which these birds prefer, but I don’t have a way to mount my platform feeder, and in any case, the current spate of afternoon thunderstorms would quickly ruin the seed.

Tree Swallow @EWash 2006jun20 LAH 003fNot all the birds in our yard are attracted to the feeders. We were late putting up our bluebird box (we had to get permission from the HOA!), so instead of bluebirds, the birdhouse holds a pair of Tree Swallows, who moved in almost immediately. When they’re not incubating their eggs, I see them soaring overhead, or perched on a handy fence post, keeping an eye on things. I appreciate them for their beauty as well as their mosquito-eating prowess.

I’m finally feeling stronger, and will soon be back at my normal routine. Taking a week off definitely wasn’t on my schedule, but it really wasn’t so bad. Birding is always rewarding, even if it’s just in my own backyard.

The bird in last week’s quiz was a Scaled Quail.

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