Observations at the feeder
By Kate Crowley
By this time in the summer, things have quieted down significantly in the bird world. There are no morning choruses like those we heard just a month ago. It all goes by so fast and realistically it has to, in order for the birds to raise their young and get them living independently in time to migrate south in the fall.
While I miss that morning music, we continue to see rose breasted grosbeaks coming for sunflower seeds, and stoplight yellow goldfinch clustering by the thistle feeder. Most of the real excitement though is around the humming bird feeders. I could watch and write about these most marvelous little birds each week until they leave, but before I start gushing about them, let me share some of the other activity and observations here on our 20 acres.
While I was visiting my son in Montana a couple weeks ago, Mike was surprised one morning to see two hen wild turkeys come strolling into the front yard, trailing four adolescent sized pullets behind them. They moved around pecking at all the fallen seeds under the feeders and gradually disappeared back into the tall grass prairie. We have only seen these big fowl at our neighbor’s house and on the roads, so it was a nice addition to our home bird list. Then just a day ago, while my grandchildren were here, I looked out the kitchen window to see the heads of two turkey moving through the grass towards the house. I called the kids to come look and they jockeyed for the best viewing position. These birds did not venture into close proximity to the house. Being very wary birds, generally speaking, they chose to veer away and crossed the road into our neighbor’s woods.
A less happy encounter occurred one afternoon while I was upstairs painting our bedroom. I heard a loud ‘clunk’ and knew immediately a bird had hit a window. I went downstairs and out onto the deck and there lying below the kitchen windows was a mourning dove. I could tell right away, this one was not going to recover. Its neck had been broken from the impact and I picked up the limp bird and cradled it in my hands. It is only from this sort of close inspection that one can really appreciate the beauty of these doves. Its body feathers were of the softest tan and looked more like suede than feathers. It had yellow eyelids that partially closed over its unseeing eyes and its feet were the most beautiful red color. I fanned out the wings to see the iridescence on some of the secondary feathers and then the tail, where I was surprised to see that the outermost feathers were all white. Later I saw the impression on the glass where it had hit and the force had caused some of the thistle seeds it had just eaten to adhere to the window.
Such a sad thing. I don’t know if it was a bird that hatched this year or not, but there is one less gentle dove in the world. Something must have scared it from its ground search to cause it to fly so hard and fast toward the house. But its misfortune allows me to remind everyone who reads this to always check when they hear something strike the window. The quicker you get out to see if the bird has been injured or stunned, the more likely it is to survive. Most of the time, the birds are just knocked ‘cuckoo’ and it is possible to help them recover by picking them up and putting them gently into a paper bag or small box. Just make sure you roll the top down securely or put tape on the box to keep it closed. Then put the bag or box in a quiet, dark corner and let it sit. After 20 minutes or so most birds will have regained their senses and often you will hear them scratching or flapping; Then just carry the container outside, lay it on its side and open it. The bird will fly away if it has recovered. The longer a stunned bird is left unattended outside, the greater the chance that it will overheat in the sun or be found by a predator – usually a housecat.
I actually had a hummingbird hit the kitchen window this summer. It was not a loud sound obviously, but luckily I was home and heard it. I went out to find the little green bird sitting on the deck, its body vibrating with life. I picked it up and carried it inside, talking gently to it. With such tiny creatures you can’t help but worry that just the stress of being held by a giant could give them a heart attack. After putting it in a paper bag, I left it on the coffee table and went outside to work in the garden. Mike was inside and heard the commotion a few minutes later, as the little bird was obviously trying to fly in the bag. He took it out and watched it zoom away. You can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief and smile every time one of these accident victims safely returns to the world.