Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Cold, Cruel World

This may be hard to believe, but there are times I leave the feeders inside because I can't deal with the horde of house sparrows. Now that it is getting to feel like winter for real, that group has been joined by an increasing number of house finches.

Unlike the sparrows, which usually flee when they see me come on the porch, the house finches just stay on the feeders in groups, eating. That's all they seem to do, eat. This is common behavior for finches, including the house finch's larger cousins the grosbeaks and the cardinals.

House finch (Margo D. Beller)
However, with the return of wintry cold I find that the lack of neighbors who put out feeders is giving me a bigger pain than usual.

The birds are getting more aggressive. The sparrows have gone back to their bad habits and are hitting the house feeder en masse. Even the cardinal, which can be skittish, is now taking advantage of its larger size to fly in and scatter the finches or sparrows in order to eat. But at most I've only had a male and a female cardinal this year so far, compared with the four pairs we've had in the past.

The cardinals must not like sparrows either. But the pair that has claimed our yard as their territory must eat or die, especially in the cold.

The one creature that is happy about all the sparrows and finches. (Margo D. Beller)
Still, the constant eating by these pest birds, who go through my seed the way a hot knife goes through butter - quickly and destructively - are taking away the joy I had in watching a diverse group of birds in my yard. With such a mob, rare winter visitors to the feeders including the purple finch or the American tree sparrow or the red-breasted nutchatch can't get a beak in edgewise.

If people want me to keep feeding the "poor" birds, they should put up their own feeders. Birds don't need my seed to survive, although it helps, I know.

In fact, thanks to the messy birds, I have a growing number of juncos - a winter sparrow visitor - and squirrels taking advantage of the droppings. I wouldn't mind this if the horde didn't waste so much seed that when it finally flies off - and the other day there must've been 40 of them joining the ones from my yard - they've left nothing for the birds I want to see, including titmice and chickadees.

Titmouse manages to get a seed - Jan. 2016 (Margo D. Beller)
As you can tell, the cold makes me irritable. Unlike the birds I have to fight the internal need to eat more when the days get short and the temperatures drop below freezing. Like the bears (by now, I hope), I feel the need to hybernate. It has been particularly hard this January because in November we had September weather and in December we had October weather. Turn the calendar page and January being January is a shock to the system.

So forgive me if I keep my feeders inside once in a while during this coldest of periods so I can have a rest from refilling them two or three times a day, and force the birds to act like birds and look around for their food. The feeders will be back outside soon enough.

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