(HOST) The more commentator Edith Hunter watches birds at the feeder in the winter – the more mysteries she finds to ponder.
(HUNTER) Soon after we put up our bird feeders each fall, I find myself asking the same questions about the birds that I ask every year.
First of all, are these the same birds or descendants of the same birds who visited my feeders last winter? Perhaps if I were a bird bander I might have a partial answer to this question.
Secondly, within a day or two after son Graham fills and hangs the feeders, the birds begin arriving. How do they know the feeders are up? Did some universal bird email go out announcing that the feeders are up at the Hunters? Or were the birds all watching from the nearby bushes and trees? I certainly have never seen flocks of birds, waiting in the wings (or on their wings).
My next questions have to do with the feeding habits of the birds. The hoggy old blue jays fly in and settle on the sunflower seed feeder and eat, and eat, and eat. Do they actually eat all those seeds, or do they get a very large mouthful and then go and regurgitate them at some storage location?
When they have finally flown away, a chickadee bounces in, takes one seed, and departs. The same with the nuthatch and the titmouse. Are these feeding habits part of these birds DNA? (I don’t really understand what DNA is but it seems an appropriate concept here.)
The finches are similar to the bluejays in their feeding habits. The goldfinches fly onto the perches of the thistle feeder and eat and eat and eat. Over on the sunflower seed feeder the house finches are doing the same thing. Again, as in the case of the bluejays, are the finches actually eating all the seeds, or just getting super-large mouthfuls to carry away?
Why do the juncos never fly up to the feeders, but eat only on the ground – the same for the white throated and white crowned sparrows?
And then there is the suet. Because Graham continued to buy it all summer long, we kept the suet holder up and supplied. The main visitors are the hairy and downy woodpeckers. Leaving suet up all summer did afford us the unexpected pleasure of watching fathers and mothers feed their almost full-grown offspring who had followed them to the suet. What is nature’s equivalent of suet?
The female and male rose breasted grosbeaks look very different from one another. But the male and female blue jays and chickadees look just the same to me. Can the real birding experts tell them apart just by looking at them?
Finally, how do the birds know enough to stay away on the day of the annual bird count and return a day later?