Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chewing the Fat

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Our “suet tree” is a smallish elm that overspreads our deck, where two metal-wire suet feeders attract a nice variety of birds.

Until a few years ago, we offered suet only in the winter months, gradually stopping at the end of the winter, assuming that the birds would just fend for themselves. And I guess they did.

Two years ago, though, we decided to keep offering suet through the spring and summer, and see what happened. Now, we offer suet year-round, and we’re treated to a daily show of beautiful birds and their always-fascinating behaviors.

During the winter, of course, the suet feeders are busy, with the expected crew: woodpeckers (up to five species), Black-Capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Blue Jays, White-Breasted and Red-Breasted Nuthatches, and the occasional Brown Creeper and kinglet. I wrote HERE about the “woodpecker wars” that ensued when a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker moved into the neighborhood last winter and laid claim to the suet feeders.

This spring, I wrote HERE and HERE about the swarms of fledgling Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers that came to the suet feeders. It was great fun to see the young birds with their parents; the adults showed the fledglings where the suet was and pulled off little bits to feed to them until the young ones got the hang of climbing onto the wire cage and feeding directly from the suet. (They’re still around, though in smaller numbers.)

Other birds that feed from our suet include Carolina Wrens, Grey Catbirds, Purple Grackles, and American Crows. Yesterday, a young male Northern Cardinal visited many times to sample the suet. He seems to have developed a taste for it; he was back this morning.

There’s one bird I really don’t like to see at the suet (or anywhere): House Sparrows. These noisy, messy, fast-breeding invasive birds take food and nesting areas from our native birds. They can gobble seeds and suet with rapacious rapidity and destroy the nests of wrens, bluebirds, and other small birds. An enormous juvenile female Cooper’s Hawk hurtled through our feeder area the other day; perhaps it was the same bird that came by a few weeks ago and took a House Sparrow (read it HERE). I hope she eats them all!

Here’s a bit of pretty bad verse about my least-favorite birds:

Those darned house sparrows eat the suet!
I wish they wouldn't bite or chew it!
I've put out plenty of tempting seeds
which should be sufficient for their needs!
I'm glad the big bold male red-belly*
turns their little legs to jelly!
He swoops in fast from the mulberry tree
(his white rump flashes – lovely to see);
and off they go. They really scatter!
But alas, they resume that mindless chatter!
I wish they'd stay at the house next door
and not come to my feeders any more.

* The Red-Bellied Woodpecker, an assertive bird that is at the top of the pecking order at our feeders.


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