Wednesday, November 24—
Charlie, my three-year-old grandchild, was cranky, and I was becoming cranky. I crossed my arms, looked at him, and said, “How about you and Nana take a timeout together?”
“Okay.” He agreed because he knows it’s not a real timeout if I’m joining him. I picked him up and carried him to the family room to begin our detention. On the way he wrapped his arms around my neck and snuggled his head on my shoulder, aah Charlie-Bear hugs.
Charlie and I needed a quiet place to gather serenity (and avoid tears). We knelt on the couch, rested our elbows on the back cushions, and watched the chickadees zip back and forth from the trees to the bird feeder. Our crankiness dissolved. Before long I heard Charlie’s five-year-old brother, Evan, ask, “What are you looking at?”
“The chickadees,” I said. Evan joined us on the couch, and we watched the chickadees dart to and from the feeder. Evan asked lots of questions—he always does. But he asked with a soft, reverent voice.
Next, their ten- and eight-year-old siblings, Clara and Michael, found us and asked, “What are you doing?” Funny how each child became aware that Charlie and I were missing from the front room and in turn abandoned their toys to find us.
The five of us sat in the darkened family room, stared outside into the dimming afternoon, and watched the chickadees dash in and out to grab seeds. I pointed to a red-breasted nuthatch cavorting on the branch of a pine tree near the feeder. Sometimes it hung upside down, and sometimes it hung right-side up in its frenzied search for food lurking in the bark.
The five of us were still and spoke in muted tones, sated with the joy of watching small birds eat supper. Timeouts are good for everyone.
Saturday, November 27—
It was cold outside, but there was no snow. I noticed small birds, including chickadees, goldfinches, and cardinals pecking at the ground and at tree branches and trunks, foraging for creepy crawlies, good sources of protein to nourish them through the winter.
A few chickadees swooped in and out to grab black oil sunflower seeds from the feeders outside my kitchen window, but only two or three chickadees at a time. In warmer months, I often see five or more doing touch-and-go landings at the feeder. Once the ground is covered in a thick, white batting of snow, the chickadees will dive bomb my feeders again. No matter how cold and snowy it gets, I keep their feeders clean and stocked.
A pair of goldfinches visited. Their yellow feathers, like the leaves and grass, have faded to brown. In the winter when a male goldfinch isn’t breeding, his brilliant yellow coloring turns a drab brown. A female goldfinch’s color fades too, but even in mating season, she’s never as flashy as her male partner. Mr. and Mrs. Goldfinch foraged on the ground and in the trees, but they also grabbed seeds from the feeders.
Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal dropped by. Mr. Cardinal was sporting his flashy red jacket. Unlike the male goldfinch whose colors fade in the winter, the male cardinal often turns a brighter red. Mrs. Cardinal was a shade of greyish-brown with a few red-feather highlights, a lipstick-orange beak, and a red-tinged mohawk. She’s always a combination of understated beauty and bold attitude.
Mr. Cardinal snuck up on the bird feeder. He started in the garden, poking his beak in the ground. He lifted his head, turned it left, then right. Looking, poking, looking, poking, in a nervous cha-cha-cha. After every couple of poke-and-look moves, he hopped a little closer to the feeders. Finally, a craving for sunflower seeds overtook him, and he flapped his wings. Lifting himself from the ground for a short flight, he landed on the tray of the red feeder. I snapped a picture of him eating and texted it to my family. My sister responded, “I like how the red bird goes to the red bird feeder.” I had the same thought when I took the picture.
Stopping by the kitchen window, I watched him fill up with seeds. Mrs. Cardinal, cloistered in a nearby cedar tree, watched him too. Cardinals usually mate for life, and she was looking out for her man. After all, he stands watch when she builds their nest.
Sunday, November 28—
Today a grey squirrel ate lunch and dinner from the bird feeder at the side of my house. The feeder, shaped like a craftsman style home, is designed to thwart squirrels. Wally “The Hack” didn’t get the memo.
I like to think Wally “The Hack” is “Flying” Wally, who, this summer, mastered leaping from one shepherd’s hook to another shepherd’s hook from which my bird feeders hang. After his leap, he would shimmy down the pole, sit on the feeder’s tray, and munch sunflower seeds. I put the plant hanger away for the winter, so if this is Wally, he has adapted.
Wally (it has to be him) figured out he needed to climb up the back of the wooden post then sit on top of the feeder. Next, he hung upside down, grabbed seeds from the tray, sat up, then ate his morsel before repeating his moves. He had learned that if he tried to eat from the front of the feeder, his weight dropped a bar and obstructed his access to the seeds. (Other squirrels still try to get seeds out of the front of the feeder.)
I sat on the couch and watched him, and he watched me watching him. He gave off a vibe of bravado and triumph—his pilfering of each seed, a boast. I left him alone and the chickadees left him alone. They flew to the ground to grab spilled seeds then darted back to the pine tree.
I wanted to open the window and yell, “Leave the seed for the birds,” but I admired Wally’s problem-solving skills, so I let him eat. I hope he doesn’t learn to hack my wi-fi and order his own sunflower seeds.
[Local birder Rich Hoeg has a wonderful website with beautiful pictures. He loves to photograph and write about owls, but also posts gorgeous pictures of other birds: 365 Days of Birds.]
[For pictures of beautiful birds from around the world, click here. To enjoy Michael Sammut’s blog about birds, click here.]
Birds and grandkids, especially together, are my favorite (and most satisfying and relaxing) topics to read about. Lovely post. Sadly, I have seen few cardinals this year at my feeders. And only recently have a few blue jays returned. The chickadees and finches are happy, I’m sure, but still, something’s missing and I don’t know why.
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Every year I anticipate the return of certain birds, and I enjoy the year-round company of others. I hope your cardinals and blue jays will be back. The birds bring me great joy.
Such a beautiful detailing of your time with your grandchildren. I really enjoyed reading this. The pictures are also so nice.
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