As fall is approaching in 2017, my thoughts turn to our winter visitors that we start getting in October. More specifically our dear Hermit thrush Patience. She had been here the previous two years ( see essays “Theatrical Thrush” and “Winter Arrivals”) and I fully expected her return this year, barring some catastrophe. The White-crowned sparrows and Dark-eyed juncos were the first to show up in early October, in a small flock of each species. As the month progressed, I thought more about Patience and her returning. On October 23rd I glanced over to the rocks next to me and there she was on her favorite rock! Patience was back for her third winter!
How did I know that it was Patience? She waited on her favorite rock while I went into the house to get some live mealworms for her and she immediately flew to my hand for a worm. It was Patience for sure. This is the third winter that she will be staying with us. Birds will return to the same nesting territories in spring and this shows the same awareness for wintering birds as well. Why wouldn’t a bird return to a place that provides for them? They are very aware of what is going on around them and seem to have some memory of past encounters.
The only other question that remained was, would Agro, the other Hermit thrush that also showed up the last two winters, be here also? As I mentioned in my previous essays Agro would chase off Patience to the other side of the house and I would have to feed her there. Well, Agro never arrived, which let me enjoy the relationship I had with Patience a whole lot more.
As I mentioned previously in this essay, the first to arrive were the White-crowned sparrows. They started out with a small flock of four or five birds and grew from there. They would feed on the dried mealworms and also take small pieces of walnut that I would throw out to them.
And then there were the Dark-eyed juncos, which are cousins of the White-crowned, again in another small flock of four or five. They are cute little birds, much smaller than the White-crowns. They are also extremely timid. They could only get to the worms when the other birds were not around and of course I threw them pieces of walnut also, which they ate heartily. Another winter visitor here that was not new to us in the winter but had started to come to the mealworms on the ground was a Yellow-rumped warbler.
It had been following and watching the bluebirds feed and was now enjoying the worms also.
The Yellow-rumped is the fourth wintering bird that we are feeding now, however this winter was going to have a few surprises in the form of our year round residents.
The first to get my attention was a Bewick’s wren. When the wren would come by very close to me while it was foraging and checking out what the other birds were all eating, I would throw out a worm for her to consume. The wren soon focussed on me as the source of her delight. Since things were very busy around the feeders and it was the smallest bird here, besides the hummers, it was tough for it to find an opportunity to feed. The wren started to call to me with a soft “pit-pit, pit-pit-pit” from the tops of some tall Aloe Vera plants and I would throw a worm up over the metal fence corner post for it to gather. I decided to call this bird Buddy.
Eventually I worked Buddy in closer and closer until I had Buddy right next to me in the jade trees by the table. It is a good staging spot for birds when they are feeding around the table. I had also been using the little “pit-pit” call to alert it that a worm was coming from me. Buddy picked up on that really quick. There also were some rocks underneath the jade trees, one of which was Patience’s favorite.
At this point I was still throwing worms out to Buddy. When both birds were here at the same time I had to feed Patience first and then throw out to Buddy while Patience was eating hers. I finally decided to tempt Buddy to my hand for a worm. She did eventually come but it was a bit different, just like Bonnie the bluebird had done early in her taking worms by hand. Buddy would only come to an open hand for a worm. It would not come if you were holding it with your fingers. However, come it did! It would land on my fingertips, take two hops forward and grab the worm. It was extremely adorable!
There were more visitors to our food dishes that winter which we had not had previously. Other year round residents of our yard were paying attention to all the birds actively feeding now. They knew that it was food and would come in closer to investigate. One of the birds investigating was a Spotted towhee. I gave it further incentive by throwing out nice pieces of walnut, since they are, like the California towhees, just big fat ground sparrows and therefore like nuts. When I would work with the Spotted towhee, throwing him pieces of walnut, I would use the call that the spotted would make foraging, just like I did with Buddy. The towhee’s call was a loud “braaack”. That also brought to mind a name for the Spotted towhee, Braaack Obama. Kind of a silly name maybe but it worked for me.
Another bird that I had been hearing up in the oaks above me for a couple of weeks finally came to the feeders. I knew that there was a Northern mockingbird up in the trees from hearing it’s calls. Well, it finally came down to feed.
I also started throwing out worms to it in order to get it’s focus on me and who and what was responsible for the worms. After all, that is my modus operandi isn’t it? Let them know just who Daddy Food Bags is around here. I am pretty sure that is my nickname with all the birds, “Daddy Food Bags” or something equivalent. I also was using the mockingbird’s call, a loud “chew”, to alert it to the coming worm. All three of these new birds would recognize and focus on me when I would use the appropriate call of their species. This was getting to be a whole lot of fun!
Another bird that I caught while fishing with meal worms and walnut pieces, this is a lot like trout fishing with flies, was a White-breasted nuthatch. They are small little birds with short legs and a low posture, which led me to it’s name, Shorty. Yeah, I know, real original isn’t it? I got it’s attention with worms and then used walnut, which is less expensive. That gives me four more year round birds that are very focussed on me, Daddy Food Bags. It is all very enjoyable, as you can imagine. However, the sole purpose of this is to remove their fear of me so that they will act totally natural in their behavior when they are around me. It lets me see little insights, from time to time, of their relationships with all the other birds and even other species. Everything is interconnected and intertwined on this planet and my feeding of the birds and other little creatures helps me see this up close and personal. I find that so incredibly rewarding!
Your’s in Nature,