Bird feeder dynamics

The house finches, with their red heads or streaked feathers and flirty chirps, flit among the branches of the trees around the porch. They are the rulers of the feeder. Two or three at a time, they descend upon the feeders. They cling to the cylindrical wire, picking out one seed at a time, cracking it to get at the oily meat inside, dropping the shell parts all around, then picking out another seed. One or two of them come to the gazebo-shaped feeder, sitting comfortably in the seed tray, calling to the others between snacks. The young ones don’t know yet how to crack through the tough sunflower shells, they just turn the seeds around in their beaks, eventually dropping them on the ground and eyeing the adults for pointers. The goldfinches come to the feeder in pairs. The male takes a couple of seeds while the female sits on a branch nearby, then he hops down to the porch railing or floor to pick through shells while the female takes her turn at the feeder.

Occasionally a mourning dove comes to pick through the shells as well. A nuthatch takes one seed at a time and flies to a nearby branch to eat it, then darts back to the feeder, as long as the finches haven’t taken over. Lazuli buntings used to visit the feeder as well, earlier in spring, but either they return unnoticed, they’ve moved on to a different locale, or they’ve been scared away by the pushier birds.  Meanwhile, the squirrels take their turn as the others watch warily. The furry flightless visitors grab onto the wire rungs with their back feet and pick seeds out with their front paws. The birds dare not disturb. Among the scurry and bustle at the seed feeder, the hummingbirds, those real-life fairies of the wooded neighborhood, dart about, peeping and chasing each other. When the seed feeder is empty, the hummers buzz by, hovering at the plastic yellow flower, sipping the sweet water through needle-thin beaks with long tongues. The finches are the busy-bodied common-folk, the mourning doves  the wallflowers, the squirrels the pushy interlopers, the hummingbirds the magical sprites.

What do they think of each other? Do the other birds find the hummers so mystical? Do they pay attention to each other, or are they concerned only with others of their species? Can they understand each others’ languages? What do the robins, those insect- and fruit-eaters who have no use for the swaying feeders, think of the chaos on the porch? These feathered and furred residents share a whole wide world, making use of different levels of the forest, crossing paths with few close encounters. When they all come together to share food from the same source, do they take notice? When they’re used to scavenging for food, relying on their wits and instincts to find tasty morsels, how  do things change when they find a reliable source, seemingly unending? Do they still feel a competitive twinge? Or does this all happen without effort, seamlessly adapting to new lunch counters and different faces, as they have for millions of years?

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