A Day in the Backyard

A leisurely weekend morning spent in the garden with a book, a cup of tea and my trusty camera, ready for action. Many of my usual customers stopped by, including a pair of Cardinals, several Mourning Doves, House Finches and Goldfinches of both genders and a Catbird. A Brown-Headed Cowbird grabbed a quick snack at my feeder and a Northern Flicker rested on a branch for about a minute, but I wasn’t quick enough with my camera. A young Grackle even took a few drinks from the bird bath.

It is amazing that in just the span of a day or two the baby birds sticking their beaks through the hole of their birdhouse are suddenly up and out. The frantic and awkward flapping which at first glance appears to indicate an injury, is really the international bird body language for “I’m hungry.”

Today the baby House Sparrows that have been living in one of the birdhouses in our yard ventured out into the world. They didn’t venture very far, just a few branches above their home, hopping more than flying from branch to branch. They are still being fed directly by their parents, the adults’ beaks going right into the eager open mouths of the chicks. Their coloring is such that they could almost pass for an adult, if a bit smaller in stature when you have mom or dad right next to them for comparison. But when you look closely, the fluffy, downy feathers are still there.

The quiet, still morning air was constantly pierced with the shrills of much larger babies, the Blue Jays now have their babies out of the nest. I believe their cries rank among my least favorite sounds of the summer. As gawky as the most awkward teenage you can think of, Steve Urkel comes to mind, you could almost think they are so ugly that they are cute, but then they open their mouths and shrill again. The adult Blue Jays had all they could do to satisfy their bottomless-pit children. They came to my feeder, gulped down the food, shoved it down the babies’ throats, repeat. Suddenly breast feeding doesn’t seem that bad.

Mourning Dove

Despite my being relatively new to the hobby of bird watching, you might say birding generally is in my blood. Before I was born, my grandfather bred and raced pigeons. Despite not experiencing the pigeons first-hand, I have heard many stories and learned many details about pigeons throughout my life. As a result, I am very fond of pigeons, a bird so often written off and sometimes even referred to as winged-rats. I haven’t had a pigeon in my yard yet, which I must admit makes me a bit sad because I know they are in the neighborhood.

Given my fondness for pigeons, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I also like the Mourning Doves that visit my yard. Doves may appear a bit large and awkward as they waddle around, but the understated modesty of their fawn color and their size match their gentle demeanor. They are in fact very graceful in flight. And if you watch them closely in the right light, their feathers display an iridescent quality, so subtle it feels like a whispered secret. They also have the slightest hint of blue outlining their eyes which seems to imply there is more to them than you think at first glance.

The husky size of a Mourning Dove seems to make all the more sense when you learn that they eat almost 20% of their body fat, daily. They only eat grains, which is why they are a common visitor to feeders, including mine. However, again due to their larger physic, they are typically ground feeders, scrounging up the discarded seeds. A few times a dove has tried to land on one of my feeders, but their size and center of balance just won’t allow it. My current feeder pole has a round flat tray on one tier and the Dove’s seem to have claimed it as their own perch (better them than the squirrels).

Mourning Doves typically visit my feeders in groups, which is always guaranteed to add to the fun because inevitably one of the males decides to get his flirt on. Puffing up his chest and neck feathers, he begins chasing around one of the lady Doves, bobbing his head forward and back as he walks, in a very exaggerated manner. Pigeons have a similar behavior. I am not sure if they just like to play hard to get, but nine times out of ten the females run away, fly away and generally seem unimpressed.

Despite the evasive maneuvers I have witnessed, this behavior must impress the ladies eventually because Doves are fairly broody as birds go. While they only lay two eggs per nesting, they reproduce about three or four times a season. You may sometimes find a couple with more than two babies (squabs). This is the result of another Dove laying parasite eggs for a fellow Dove to raise.

Both of the parents share the responsibility of incubating and feeding the young. The babies are fed crop-milk which is even a bit more gross than it sounds. If you are interested, google it.

Mourning Doves are so common in North America they are commonly hunted. About 20 million are hunted annually. But have no fear, the population is not at risk. Besides being very fruitful in a breeding season, Mourning Doves also live a relatively long time, the oldest known Dove being 30 years old at the time of his demise.

Mourning Doves have the rare ability among birds to drink without lifting their heads

My Feeder Set-up

The wide view of my backyard

Since many of the posts in this blog will focus on birds in my backyard, I thought that I should take a little time to familiarize you with my set-up. It has changed many times since my first bird pole was pushed into the soil in the spring of 2016, but the essence has remained.

Our yard is lined with trees on both the left and right, but we have an open rectangular plot of “grass” which you will notice as I post more and more photos is more like weeds in the sandy soil. My first bird-related feature was a feeder pole with two seed feeders. I have since added several houses, a bird bath and specialized feeders (finch and suet). Basically, I pander to my feathered friends in any way possible to get them to visit my yard, and I am not embarrassed to admit it! The most recent change is that as of Spring 2019 I have a new pole, which has four hooks. The extra hooks are great, but the four pronged support system is what makes this pole superior. Birds may be light as a feather, but bird seed isn’t and neither are some of the more heavy duty feeders. After a few years, my original pole began listing to one side from all the weight.

I have had several feeder fatalities in three years thanks to the squirrels who like to keep me on my toes. They are the primary reason why my favorite feeder, a wooden feeder with ledges and a suet section, is currently in my basement.