Life at a birdfeeder can get complicated. . .

There are the regulars, and then there are the foul-weather visitors.

We don’t mean to boast, but the regulars who visit our birdfeeder have very good manners. Even in bad weather, when they must be hungry, they are patient. They take turns. They wait until the feeder is unoccupied before taking just one seed and flying off to wait for another turn. Occasionally a bird misjudges and only a deft change in course averts a near collision. There may be a momentary flutter, never aggressive moves.

Chickadees and titmice in particular have very good breeding. They must have

Black-capped Chickadees from artwork by Bradley Jackson

listened when their moms said not to push and shove. They come and go every day on schedule, arriving during lunch time (ours). They sit hidden in the fragrant osmanthus at the edge of the porch, content to wait until the feeder is free. The hairy woodpecker joins them, but he is more interested in the suet than in the seeds.

The regulars that work the floor beneath the feeder are an amiable bunch, even when the peckins’ are thin. Cardinals, juncos, sparrows, the Carolina wren, and sometimes mourning doves.

White throated sparrows scuff in the leaves. Groups of juncos seem to recognize personal space, stay out of each other’s way. The Carolina wren, just one, hops about from ground to feeder to suet, but he waits his turn. The plump mourning dove seems content to sit on the porch rail out in the open. Is he target practice for a hawk? Maybe he has an escape strategy we don’t know about.

Male and Female Cardinals from artwork by Russell Cobane

Often the cardinals crave seed from the feeder. It took them a few slips and flying-falls to figure out how to combine balancing on small perches and picking out the prize. They are reticent, so they usually try this act when other birds are not around.

Off and on a blue jay visits. He is a giant compared to small songbirds, but he is streamlined, so he can quickly pull off the seed heist before he loses his balance. In spite of his reputation as a scalawag, he does not fly in full of bluster. He waits his turn. Small birds darting around can make him skittish, but he seems to understand that he is bigger, and he makes no aggressive moves. But he is certainly not a pushover.

Which brings me to the foul-weather visitors. With unerring skill they find us

Blue Jays from artwork by Jerry Gademus

after a snowfall. They have very bad manners. Goldfinches and blackbirds, they are.

Goldfinches swoop in with everybody’s cousin in tow. They pounce on every perch, jostle for favored positions. Apparently their moms did not teach them to share. Having usurped the feeder, they sit…and sit…and sit…while our regulars wait…and…wait…and…wait.

If our regulars, who are bigger, are annoyed, they are usually too polite to challenge the newcomers. One day, however, we saw our considerate blue jay peck at the goldfinches. He must have been very irritated. Did he scare them? Doubtful.

Carolina Wren from a photograph by Steve and David Maskowski

During one particularly cold day we saw a chickadee and titmouse fly at the finches, almost in unison. Enough waiting, they seemed to say. It’s time to share. They succeeded in reclaiming the feeder, temporarily.

Nothing much seems to bother goldfinches. Before the raccoons trashed it, we had a feeder that closed if there was too much weight on the perch. One snowy day so many goldfinches squeezed together in a frenzy of feeding that the weight of the last bird to land closed the feeder. Goldfinch heads disappeared, locked rigidly in place inside the trough until the startled newcomer left. When the trough opened, the finches continued feeding. They hardly noticed the interruption. All in a day’s feeding.

If goldfinches are greedy and unmindful, blackbirds are greedy and unmindful and noisy and big. They hover in the trees until the raucous flock is ready to swoop in. Birds scatter and retreat. Well, not the finches who hold their own on the feeder.

The blackbirds may hold court on the ground for an entire morning or afternoon, elbowing out the usual crowd, springing to life faster than a speeding bullet when new seed becomes available. Once they came zooming in out of a fog that had rolled in, and we thought we were restaging Hitchcock’s The Birds.  We can’t help but think that Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie might not be a bad idea. But what a noisy pie that would be.

Within a day or two the snow is usually gone, and our foul-weather friends are too, and life gets less complicated at our birdfeeder.

We are not wildlife artists or photographers. We have borrowed images from talented craftsmen to illustrate this post.

Reflections from A Heron’s Garden

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