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It’s amazing what a difference a little snow makes. For starters, my back yard buddies seem to become a lot more aggressive and demanding once the snow comes. Every morning the local gaggle of wild turkeys shows up just at daylight to begin bickering over the sunflower seeds and cracked corn I put out for them. I know there is plenty of both and enough for everyone to have their fill, but for some reason these big birds (all hens) seem to find plenty to complain about.
When I happen to forget to put a fresh load of seed on the ground for them the stand out there clucking and yelping like it’s the end of the world, scolding me for my sloth and demanding that I deliver some chow – right now!
Oddly, when snow blankets the ground they are more aggressive and become ever louder and bolder. The other day I saw a shadow cross the picture window and thought one of the neighbors might have come over for a visit. I looked out to see three big, fluffed-up hens sitting on my porch railing, all gawking in the window and clucking loudly, letting me know that they wanted more food – and quickly, too!
Two other hens were roaming around on the back deck, and another was pacing back and forth on the roof. In the dark, snowy pre-dawn they all looked rather dreary and miserable, which is perhaps why one rarely see wild turkeys depicted in any Disney films.
If chickadees are cute turkeys pretty much represent the opposite end of the spectrum – they have big feet, raggedy feathers and a head that looks too much like that of a buzzard. Nothing “cute” there! I’m a big fan of all wildlife and enjoy observing them all (cute or not), so the turkeys are safe with me.
They are not the only ones who make demands. Just this morning I was sitting by the stove contemplating the course of my day when an impatient downy suddenly flew up on the 9-lite door and began pecking at the casing. He was squawking for all he was worth and pecking randomly at the door hinges, which rarely happens, but then I noticed his wire feeder was empty. I try not to anthropomorphize too much, giving humanistic traits to my wild friends, but there is some universal truth to the Nag Factor. Even a downy woodpecker can figure out that if he annoys me enough he’ll eventually get what he wants!
I’ve noticed that the squirrels are somewhat more subtle in their demands for attention. This season for some reason I have two red squirrels and a dozen grays in the yard, all vying for leftovers once the turkeys have had their fill. The reds are extremely fidgety, working much harder and faster than the grays, which will sit amongst the seeds and eat their fill without too much fanfare. The reds act like the building is afire, scurrying up and down the nearby tree trunks, disappearing among the rocks of the outside fireplace and generally expending way too much unnecessary energy. Nature’s poster children for manic/bi-polar behavior, red squirrels can’t seem to shut up or sit still, a trait that mammals up and down the evolutional line seem to share. The similarities are almost shocking!
However, I’ve noticed that when the feeders are empty and there’s nothing left on the ground, the squirrels will take up positions close to the feeders (usually upside down, with tails flicking) and just stare at the feeder as if willing it to fill itself with sunflower seeds, cracked corn or peanuts. I sometimes feel like the host at a dinner party who has to notice the subtle gestures of guests who need more coffee, more wine, or have lost their fork. The squirrels don’t say much, but the innuendo is clear enough, and out I go to resupply them.
Some of the larger mammals that come to the feeders depend on a little pantomime to get their point across. All fall I’ve had pair of opossums showing up at the feeder, mostly during the night but, since the snow, more often during the day. To say that opossums have “learned to adapt” is a bit of an understatement. These strange-looking critters are not cute or friendly and no one seems concerned that the roads are often littered with their carcasses. They have been around for about 70 million years, outlasting the big and scary dinosaurs that, for some reason, were not able to cope with the sudden change in climatic conditions brought on by a cataclysmic meteor shower, which, by the way, is in orbit out there somewhere and destined to return!
Today’s opossums do not seem overly concerned with meteor showers or much of anything other than filling their bellies, and being well up on the omnivorous ladder they find my back yard seed buffet as appealing as any road kill, garden grub or June bug they might encounter.
What’s interesting to me is a how a hungry opossum lets me know he is out of food. When the last of the seeds are gone the opossum goes into his Vaudeville routine of pacing around the yard, coming back to where the food was, going off a few steps, coming back again, and then glaring up at my window to see if I’m paying attention. I’ve seen them do this for 20 minutes or more, climbing halfway up a tree and then going back to the food, coming up on the porch and returning to the pile . . . always with one eye on my window and a wide, toothy grin suggesting that we’re buddies and I really should come out and feed him.
The trouble with opossums is that they are not terribly pretty to look at and they can eat a bucketful of seed in one sitting. I don’t mind having a flock of turkeys or chickadees in the yard, nor do I even mind having a dozen squirrels show up every morning, but if I passel of opossums decides to move in I may have to reconsider the whole backyard feeder thing!
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