The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Backyard a Scene from Hitchcock's The Birds as Starlings Grab the Suet and Corn.
Blue Jays Adorn the Yard

Blue jays seem to have a special affection for corn.
They also enjoy peanuts and sunflower seeds.



On Saturday, Alex and I invested four pounds of suet in a bid to attract and feed the insect-eating birds. If the birds like suet, they also like insects at all stages of life. Starlings, with their spearing beaks, can poke into the soil for grubs. The petite chickadees can pick them off bushes and trees. Woodpeckers can drill for theirs, and others mix their grain appetites with insects.

People think hummingbirds live on nectar, but they need insects too. That is why I would rather raise as many hummer-friendly flowers (nectar and insects) as possible, and let others fill their feeders with sugar water.



Alex and I were near the end of the suet when I decided against working on the front yard bags. We scattered lumps on the feeding table and around the yard. Nothing much happened on Saturday. But on Sunday about 60 birds (mostly starlings) had a suet feast, all at once. Several starlings at once would fight over a big lump, tossing it into the air, only to land near a new group ready to play tug-of-war with it.

At the same time, thistle loving birds were trying the bird feeder near the window. A purple finch and male cardinal were trying the new seed combo (thistle plus hulled sunflower seeds) only a few inches from me, watching on the inside. The cardinal looked up and fled with the finch, but the new food source was established. They would be back with friends and relatives.

Birds seldom eat all the food at once. A blueberry grower in Midland said it happened to him once, when flocks came in and emptied his bushes twice. Nothing he did could stop them. But the rest of the time, birds simply snacked now and again.

Birds that eat in flocks (starlings, cedar waxwings, sparrows) will arrive in a group, eat for a time, and leave for another cafeteria. More food and water means more noise, and more birds will arrive, sharing with the other species while promoting a certain amount of jousting.

Starlings did a fair amount of sparring for the suet, but that only meant getting one scrap or another. We had a pile of suet crumbles, several big lumps launched in the air by starling tug-o-wars, corn for the squirrels, and sunflower seed. Quite a bit of seed got wet from the two inches of rain, so I hoped some would be rescued early. Sparrows will harvest what is left.

We had a nest just like this outside our window in Bella Vista.
I delivered sunflower seeds to the parents.

The afternoon was above freezing, so the starlings worked over the lawn for fresh food. God hatches insects just when birds are feeding their hungry broods or getting ready to nest. On a blustery day when no one would garden in the soggy soil, the birds were eliminating insect pests before they could mature, party, and bear even more young.

A group of birds will destroy thousands of insect pests in feeding their young.

Fortunately, the newspapers in bags outside  got just as soggy as the straw bales, so the soggy newspapers will be easier to place when the roses come. My current plan is to carpet the entire back section of the backyard in newspapers and make the area packed with flowering, seeding, nectaring plants. For a brief moment I had too many newspapers. Soon I may be reduced to begging more newsprint from neighbors. They may catch onto the fact that newspapers = soil productivity.

Nesting birds guard against predators who attack their homes or their babies when struggling to fly. We had blue jays in abundance in Bella Vista, where they knew me for providing corn and sunflower seeds. They watched me come out to their nesting area, but not one attacked me. Few birds are more aggressive than blue jays in protecting their young. But I was their Marvin Schwan, delivering their good, and I was welcome. The parents would watch from their perches and comment while I scattered sunflower seed. But if strangers walk into a zone where a baby jay is on the ground, trying to fly, they will learn the meaning of "air supremacy" as the parents repeatedly attack and drive them away, screaming terrible threats and insults at the same time.

"As naked as a blue jay."
This is the force that drives insect removal.