Backyard bird buffet brings joy to winter


Fran Ostendorf, EditorFor as long as I can remember, wherever I have lived, there have been bird feeders in my backyard. My current home is no exception. Backyard birds have always been a source of endless fascination. You start to recognize their songs and their behaviors. Our cat is especially fond of the entertainment that we call “Cat TV.” Don’t worry, he’s an indoor cat and the birds seem to realize that he’s not a threat.

As a matter of fact, we have multiple feeders – different types for different seeds that nourish different birds. Stop by on any given day and you’ll see quite a variety of birds if you look out the windows toward the backyard.

And just in case you are wondering, the squirrels get their share, too. More than their share. At one point, we had as many as nine squirrels living in and around our yard. (The eight big oak trees nearby and their acorns are just as big a draw as our feeders.) The recent arrival of a fisher cat, along with a lightning strike that took down one of the trees that housed several nests, has reduced the squirrel population a bit.

Sometimes we aren’t too diligent about filling our feeders on a regular basis. With the rush to get out in the morning, the birds do take a backseat to jobs, appointments, errands. But we try, especially in the winter.

This week, we were gone for a few days. The feeders had been empty for about a week. Would the birds return?

I was happy to come downstairs on Sunday to find a line of birds waiting for breakfast: Cardinals, black-capped chickadees, purple finches. All the regulars were back. As were two squirrels, parked on either side of the big feeder, fattening up for the cold temperatures promised later in the week. It’s reassuring to know that the word gets out so quickly.

Sometimes, those chickadees are waiting on the deck rail while we fill the feeders. I suspect that we could train them to eat out of our hands, but we don’t want them too domesticated. The chickadees are among our favorites. Among the smallest backyard birds, they are fearless and are almost always the first to hit the feeders after they are filled.

My husband is the big driver for our bird-feeding activities. He’s always trying different feeders and foods to see who eats what. Hummingbirds, orioles, grosbeaks, woodpeckers. He’s trying to attract new species to our breakfast room windows.

He got the feeding habit from his father, who would go out in the yard in the middle of winter in his slippers to hang pieces of bread and other foods in the cherry tree outside the kitchen windows. (Living on a small lake, his dad also fed the fish every morning.)

My mother fed the birds, too, until a reported rodent problem in the neighborhood led to a bird feeder ban by the homeowner’s association.

There is a rhythm to life at the feeder. The birds and animals change with the seasons and every year there is something new. The blue jays disappeared completely for a couple of years. Some years, there are lots of cardinals and some years only a few. Goldfinches were rare last year, and we haven’t seen our resident oriole family for a while.

But there is an optimism to it all, especially in the middle of a cold, dreary winter, when optimism is really welcomed. There will always be birds that will come and enjoy. And they will always entertain all of us, including the cat.