It’s like hosting a dinner party where unexpected guests come. You feel obligated to feed them all.
The attendance at my feeders this year has increased almost five-fold, judging by the bags of black oil seed I’ve bought this year. I don’t begrudge buying them seed, but sheesh, I’m gonna have to try growing a crop of sunflowers, at this rate.
There are two distinct flocks, the grosbeak clique, and the sparrows. The Evening Grosbeaks show up first thing in the morning (?), populate the treetops, and shout while I do the chores. They wait for me to clear the area and put away the dog before they descend. They are SO loud, and very sensitive. The slightest movement will send them up in the air like a gust of wind. They move on by mid morning, and then it’s the sparrows’ turn.
Last year, the Grosbeaks came every two or three days, and not in these numbers. This winter, they seem to tell more friends every week. I was surprised at first when I counted 17 males at once. Wow! Now there are more than 30, daily (the ladies are there in equal numbers, but much harder to count in their subtle colours.
I have six feeder ports, and the perches are long sticks, so sometimes the birds queue two deep on them, waiting their turn, and of course, squabbling. You’re hogging! You’ve had FOUR seeds, get out of here!
The raspberry birds (purple finches) hang with either the grosbeaks or the sparrows. Last year, it was exciting to see two. This year, I counted eight! at once! Sometimes there’s a nuthatch, or a couple of juncos. There are three woodpecker regulars. They are exceedingly awkward when they try to get into the feeders, miserably trying to creep on and cling to the swinging milk jug, and twist their head into the hole. When they manage a position that works, they stay for a while. The creepers are much more at home attacking the wads of beef fat I hang so picturesquely in the trees.
The flock of goldfinches also go with either the sparrows or the grosbeaks. They amuse me when they browse the ground with the grosbeaks, because they are so similar in colouring to the big birds, but a quarter of the size, they look like little mini-mes.
I cast a lot of seed on the ground. All the visitors seem comfortable ground foraging, and six ports seems pretty unfair when 50 birds are here at once. The female grosbeaks and sparrows and goldfinches blend in so well that you can’t pick them out of the background of frozen bare ground until they move, and it can look like the ground is rippling when they are working methodically. This winter is so different. The ground has been exposed more often than not, and the temperature fluctuates wildly and often.
Meantime, there are the constant chickadees, who are outnumbered and outshouted by the others (and don’t object to photographs). While the two flocks come and go, the chickadees avoid the crowded times and work the feeders all day, first in in the morning and last out at dusk, even working around the squirrel.
Even with these numbers, there has only been one casualty this winter (and one last). The window ribbons are working pretty well.