Birds and Bugs

A giant, red-headed woodpecker has been making his jungle noises all day. You see, a few weeks ago, my neighbor gave me a wonderful steel bird feeder, shaped like an old red barn. It took a week for the birdies to recognize this new source of nourishment, but they have been bellying up to the bar like cowboys at the end of a cattle drive. It’s supposed to be squirrel-proof and seems to be working. I’m particularly happy that the size and placement of the shiny painted rods make it a great fly-in cafe for small birds while discouraging the larger, louder, and greedier birds. One of the many things I love about Spring is the return of my friends of the feather, and the new feeder has enticed many new varieties of tiny, tweeting darlings. They fly in, feed, and fly off. Or they do the first two and hop along my banister, chirping their happiness to the world. Some seem to return numerous times throughout the day, as long as it’s not raining. So much for ‘eating like a bird.’

Most of the little birds do not fight over food, unlike the larger ones. I also put out suet packets in little cages that are bird-friendly while keeping those treats off the ground. They never last long enough for ants and other icky bugs to be attracted. Unlike my new feeder, the suet cages attract all sizes of birds, including my newest guest, Woody the Woodpecker. Living in the country, we see all sorts of birds, including the pileated woodpecker and the red-headed woodpecker, but this is the first year I’ve been host to a giant one. He is larger than a raven, which is larger than a crow (for those unfamiliar with American birds, most areas have crows which are black, noisy birds who eat carrion, among other things, while ravens generally are only seen in the south). Woodpeckers generally go after termites and other bugs that infest and destroy our trees, but they do not turn up their beaks at a good packet of suet.

So, my newest guest has been dive-bombing the suet cages, singing with a unique call reminiscent of all those spooky jungle birds crying out warnings to Tarzan and Jane in the old movies. While my tiny birdies usually come in pairs and will later be joined by bouncing baby birdies, the red-headed woodpecker has remained single. Perhaps that is why he sings so often and for such long periods. Those in the know suggest that birds do not, as I would hope, sing from love or cheerfulness, but rather to protect their territory—marking it with sound as mammals mark theirs with urine—and to attract a mate. I hope he finds a lovely redhead to make his woody dreams come true. We have a lot of trees and a lot of bugs, so more woodpeckers sounds fine to me. But I do wish he wouldn’t push around the tiny birds. No one likes a bully.

He has just now been (accidentally) chased off by a munching squirrel that has discovered that Woody has been knocking chunks of suet to the ground. I guess he gets dizzy on the swinging chain if he hangs onto the cage and has figured out he can use his talons to dig out bits of suet, which he then eats off the ground. This has led him in recent days to dig his beak into the two stumps situated next to the shepherd’s crook holding the suet, finishing off his suet with some lovely insects dumb enough to hide in the stumps. But now he’s gone, not happy with sharing his feast with the squirrel. Too bad.

The gray rodent will search elsewhere when the suet chunks are gone. If he returns, I’ll get to see him attempt to shinny up the shepherd’s crook which is very smooth, with a powder-coated black finish. He usually falls or slides down 90% of the time, and yet he perseveres. This is an almost constant effort, despite the presence of zillions of nuts of various sorts scattered over the lawn, some eaten or partially eaten, most untouched. Having tasted an acorn as a child, I believe that the suet must taste better, for acorns are so horribly bitter I doubt even hunger would lead ME to eat them.

Although the skies are still cloudy and so still threaten rain, the sun has returned for the most part. I look forward to a bright Spring weekend, dry and warm, so I can clean up the winter debris, mow my lawn, and move my deck furniture back to the deck. This year, I need to refinish and re-stain the deck, but I have to wait for several dry days. I doubt we’ll have relief from April showers, so I guess I’ll go ahead with the furniture anyway, knowing I’ll have to remove it all before cleaning, sanding, and re-finishing the deck. Last year, our time on the deck was severely shortened, hampered by a hornet’s nest under the deck, which had escaped everyone’s notice until I chanced upon an unexpected ‘structure.’ These were not your garden-party, happy-to-share-your acreage kind of hornet, either. They were mean and vicious and looking for trouble. Hornets are the gangsters of the insect kingdom, always spoiling for a fight and eager to show they’re tougher (and touchier) than any other creature.

We’ll have to have daily or weekly inspections of the under-deck, just to make sure those bastards don’t gain another foothold. The exterminator told me, though, that they can build a nest in just a few hours. Unbelievable. While I’m putting up wasp traps, I’ll see if they have hornet traps, too. Every summer, we’re invaded by ants, carpenter bees, wasps, hornets, spiders, snakes, flies, and mosquitoes. I welcome the honey bees because we need them, but the rest of the varmints can leave my premises! I know they’re all God’s creatures, but I have a simple rule: If it has fewer than two or more than four legs, I don’t want it in the yard, let alone the house. Ick.

It’s ok. One of the smaller red-headed woodpeckers has flown in to sample my suet. Now I just have to watch out for that hawk that thinks I’m attracting birds just so HE can have a snack!

©2015 Linda L Labin, PhD

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2 thoughts on “Birds and Bugs

  1. Thank you, Patty. We used to have parakeets when I was young, but it’s better to have many varieties outside. I never liked cities for that reason–no songbirds but lots of pigeons.

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  2. Great post. I love birds, but mine are inside. You described the birds in your yard in such detail. I know what you mean about those squirrels. It’s hard to keep them away. Good luck with the wasps and hornets this year.

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