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It’s interesting to me to see that October is not much different than April if you measure the months by the array of critters that show up, sometimes literally, at the door each day.
So far this month I’ve seen more raccoons, skunks, opossums, squirrels and mice feeding at, near or stealing from the feeders, and for some reason the same flock of turkeys that roosted on my roof last spring are back at it again. I recognize two jakes with twisted beards that have been occasional visitors all summer, but now they clatter around on my root each morning and, after much debate, come flying down to fill up on the cracked corn and sunflower seeds I put out for them – by the gallon!
Things were relatively quiet around the house during the heat of the summer but now I’m awakened each morning by squads of chickadees and once-again dull-looking goldfinches that don’t want to waste a minute of daylight on anything but filling their crops.
Also new since cooler weather and changing leaves dominated the conversation, blue jays have come storming in, loud and bold, scaring the less aggressive birds away with their screeching and sky-diving antics.
I’m not sure why the jays even bother; I watch them with binoculars and can’t see that they eat the first seed or morsel of corn. They land, scatter seeds all over the yard and then fly away, screeching all the while, as if they’d just gotten away with burglary!
I’m one of those who find some of the blue jay’s distinct calls appealing; not so much their trademark, ear-piercing, “jay-jay” call, but the more melodic, bell-like call that sounds to some as if the bird is saying, “Side light, side light!”
In harsh weather blue jays are often the only show in town, and I enjoy hearing their calls echoing through the somber, snowy woods.
Interestingly, blue jays are among the very few small birds in which the males and females are the same color: striking azure and white with black highlights. Also surprising considering the blue jay’s reputation as the middle-school punks of the bird world, these birds travel in flocks but when it’s time to cross open spaces they go one at a time, a behavior they may have learned back in prehistoric times when bigger, badder winged ruffians ruled the skies.
Another peculiarity about blue jays is that they thoroughly dislike flying over water, even during migrations. Meanwhile the diminutive hummingbird boldly crosses 500 miles of the Gulf of Mexico – non-stop, of course – during its journey south. Who’s the tough guy now?!?!
I’ve also noticed that there is a comparison between the spring and fall habits of the local mourning dove population. These normally shy birds actually roost in my woodpile and on my porch in spring and fall, sometimes spending the night fully exposed on a railing or the 2x4s that keep my rain tarp more or less where I want it to be. I would think that a mink, house cat or own would find them easy marks after dark, but I have also noticed that roosting doves sit quite still throughout the night. Because most predators’ success depends on the movements of their prey, it’s no wonder that they fail to notice the dusky, silent doves.
I have often meant to create a chart indicating the most common periods of the year when I am awakened in the night by the clunking and thumping of furry critters on my porch. This year was quite busy in spring but there was a bit of a respite in summer. Now, however, the ‘coons, opossums and flying squirrels have been having a great time trying to dump my feeders. In fact, the night before this year’s Maine black bear hunting season opened a bruin came by and knocked over two bee hives and demolished both porch feeders. I didn’t hear the bear over the noise of the air conditioner, but there’s not much one can do (legally) to deal with a raiding black bear in the night.
Actually, I put my feeders out and keep them filled even though I know they are likely to be assaulted by a variety of hungry mammals. I put seed out to attract wildlife of any kind; birds, mammals and rodents included, and don’t mind sharing the occasional extra gallon of seeds with deer, moose or whatever else decides to show up. I get a kick out of seeing wild creatures at any time of year and spend a lot of time observing and documenting their comings and goings.
Also, some of these critters are driven by the need to fatten up before they go into hibernation. Others need to store food for the long, cold days ahead and the remainder, having no dens or pockets, must come along every day to eat just enough to survive one more wintry night.
I admire the ability of the chickadees, finches and, yes, the noisy jays, to survive and thrive for months with nothing more than a daily dose of sunflower seeds. I have plenty of firewood, water and a freezer full of meat, even flannel sheets to keep me warm at night, yet there are many, many days over winter when the birds seem to show a lot more enthusiasm than I. Their energy and persistence often inspires me to get up early and stay busy all day – if they can do it why can’t I?
Once the truly miserable weather hits I can sense that these wild things depend on me to get them through. The turkeys and jays shuffle around and complain that the feeders need to be filled. When the chickadees fly away into the woods, disappointed that there are no seeds waiting for them, I feel as if I’ve let my best friends down. They wait, rather patiently, for me to do my job, and then they come right back, happily picking and pecking, keeping me on the list for another visit the next day.
It seems that we all have a part in the cycle of life. They keep me entertained year-round and I keep them alive all winter. I think that is more than worth the price of a bag of sunflower seeds!
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