| Whenever I chance to sit on the porch to observe what’s going on with the wild things in my back yard, I am reminded of the clichéd dream of pageant contestants everywhere: “I wish for peace and happiness throughout the world!”
It’s safe to say that the girls who have such wishes have not made many back porch observations!
The critters all run for it when I first step outside the door, but if I sit quietly and don’t make any sudden movements they slowly get back to the business of survival.
The first to show up are the chickadees. Trusting and brave, they seem to think being cute makes them invincible. Unfortunately, cute doesn’t matter much in their world. Within seconds the bigger, more aggressive birds show up, shouldering their way into the feeders and shoving the smaller birds out of the way. It’s almost as if they wait in the shadows and let the chickadees go in to make sure the coast is clear. Like most bullied creatures, the smaller birds have more patience, dignity and civility they let the bigger birds take what they want and then slip in behind them to fill their crops one seed at a time.
From my observation post on the south corner of my porch, I get the feeling that none of the birds really get along. For example, I enjoyed watching the bluebirds last month begin to establish nests in the boxes scattered around the field, but since then the barn swallows have taken over the boxes and won’t let the bluebirds back in. The bluebirds seem to be reluctant to defend their territories, and the faster, more aggressive swallows quickly moved in. We still have bluebirds, but they are no longer nesting in their traditional boxes.
A similar battle seems to be going on between the grackles and robins. I have seen several instances where a robin was busily picking earthworms out of the grass and a grackle would swoop down and steal it. This kind of thievery is common in the bird world. It is well documented that bald eagles often steal fish from ospreys, sometimes in mid air, but the osprey is so successful at his trade that he’ll just go catch another fish rather than fight over it.
I think the most surprising “Why can’t we get along?” scenario takes place between our smallest birds. Why the diminutive hummingbird can’t be nicer to his fellow nectar sippers is beyond me. Even with several feeders and more than a gallon of nectar available, these little speedsters are constantly diving at and chasing each other as if any one of them could possibly drink all that nectar!
I have one hummingbird feeder outside my office and I rarely see a hummer sit on it to feed for more than a few seconds before another, more aggressive bird comes storming in to kick him out. This goes on all day and no matter how many feeders I keep filled, they never stop fighting over it. I wonder why hummingbird feeder manufacturers make nice little perches all around the feeder when it’s lucky if one hummer can perch and eat, let alone four or more. They buzz around the feeder for hours but as soon as one lights another will chase him (or her) away.
The back yard combat isn’t limited to birds, either. I have a fair population of chipmunks in my rock gardens and each one seems to want to keep every last seed for himself. I have several seed feeders around the house and each one seems to have one dominant chipmunk that spends as much time chasing the others away as he does eating (and storing) seeds. Recently I have been keeping empty coffee cans on the porch so the chipmunks will have a place to put their seeds. Last year I went hunting up north for a week and when I went to put my boots on I found one was literally filled with seeds! I’d left my boots on the porch all fall and a chipmunk evidently decided my boot was a better place to store seeds than the feeder that was 10 feet from it!
Between filling my boots and chasing other chipmunks away, it’s amazing that the dominant chipmunk has any time to rest. All day (and most of the night) I hear them running around on the porch, chasing or being chased, and all over free seed that’s hand delivered to them each day!
Not even the wild turkeys can get along when it comes to food. My local flock comes in every day to pick up the spilled seed from under the feeders and they fight over it as well. My yard is littered with turkey feathers, remnants of fights between sexes and subordinates. I suppose that a full crop is the difference between life and death on their nighttime roosts, but I put out enough seed to fill twice as many turkeys and still they can’t get along. I’ve noticed that the larger males will approach in a group and sort of elbow the hens and smaller males out of the way, but when one of the subordinate birds dares to peck at a seed across that imaginary line, a severe beating with wings and spurs is sure to follow.
It’s been my observation that wild things generally tolerate each other but expect everyone to keep their distance. On days when several species of birds, squirrels and chipmunks are all feeding off the same pile of corn or sunflower seeds, there is a level of harmony that exists as long as each player avoids the appearance of taking too much. The squirrels will begin to fight, the birds will leave and the quicker chipmunks will dodge in and out of the fray in hopes of picking up another seed or two in the process.
World peace? If hummingbirds can’t get along even thought the nectar is free and abundant, what chance is there that the rest of us will do any better!