Top ten birds at my feeders

three crows at my crow feeder

by Jennifer Stevenson

My husband keeps the bird feeders filled, bless him.  He has a regular feeder with three canisters: one for cracked corn, one for sunflower seed, and one for mixed seed.  He has a thistle seed feeder just for finches.  And he also built my crow feeder, which is a square wooden tray about three feet on a side, pierced with holes to let the rain out, and stuck up on a pole almost five feet high to keep cats, squirrels, and coyotes out.

The birds:

10 Starlings. Did you know that only 24 starlings were imported to New York’s Central Park from Europe in the 19th Century by some dumbell who wanted America to have “all the birds in Shakespeare?”  We’ve got ‘em everywhere in thousands, now.  They do eat anything the crows don’t want.  Also, two starlings singing sound like an entire jungle, which is festive, unless it’s really ten thousand starlings, which smell rather.

9 Grackles. We get purple grackles and boat-tail grackles, which look a lot alike.  They’re shiny and noisy migrants. They come through in flocks once a year and inflate themselves before they scream, like cranky two-year-olds at the mall.

8 House sparrows. The dandelions of the bird world, these were also brought over for “all the birds in Shakespeare.” I like their tireless dashing about in flocks, their different songs for different moods, the way they nest in every crack in humanity’s structures, and their feistiness at the feeder—a sparrow will chase away pigeons, grackles, and jays for a shot at some seed.

7 Blue jays.  My husband’s favorite birds.  Most people are familiar with their “jay!” call, but when they’re really upset, they also make an entertaining sound like an old-fashioned ringing telephone.

6 Peregrine falcons. This Spring a mated pair came by, which made the local crows crazy. If I see a brown blur shoot like an arrow past my window, it’s a peregrine.

5 White-throated sparrows. I seldom see them, but I hear their song, which was my mother’s favorite birdsong, and it never fails to remind me of her.

4 Flickers. These are big yellowish woodpeckers with just a tiny patch of red on the backs of their heads. They eat ants and other ground bugs. In mating season they do the classic woodpecker hammering noise, and also have a goofy crazy mating call like a cartoon monkey laugh.

3 Mourning doves. The peregrine’s favorite prey in my yard. I love their subtle, soft, shimmery colors  A dove can rise like a rocket and fly 45 or 50 miles an hour, which is almost as fast as the peregrine, fastest bird of all. I also like their mating call. If you copy it, a dove will sing all day, trying to “top”you.

2 Cardinals. Cardinals and evergreens go together. The smell of the giant spruce outside my window, combined with the cardinal’s song and morning sunshine, sends me into a trance of joy.

1 Crows.  My all-time favorite bird. I feed them peanuts in the shell, leftovers, food the cats have rejected, bones, anything. They mate for life, and they hold funerals, and massive winter-long family slumber parties, and “crow olympics” where gangs of crows assemble on one of two office towers a few blocks apart, then teams of crows coast from one rooftop to another, while the crows still on the rooftops jump up and down, cheer their teammates, and call the scores.  I am not making this up.

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Top ten birds at my feeders — 5 Comments

  1. Do you have Stellar Jays (bright blue with a black cockade) or scrub jays, softer blue and gray, no top knot?

    Saw my first ever cardinals, male and female at sister’s house in Maryland last September.

    We’re waiting for the pine siskin migration at the moment. Little tiny birds with stripes of yellow and gray. They descend in flocks of nearly 100 birds and cover the deck. Dumber than dirt and voracious.

    Shy juncos and grosbeaks are gone for the year. Back again next spring.

  2. Kathi, I’d love to crow-watch with you! You have Mexican crows in Texas, I think, as well as American crows. Did you know that crows have regional accents? TRUTH. When I was in Tahoe City several years ago, I heard local crows cawing–they sounded as if they were humans from Skokie, Illinois. That blend of Jersey, the Bronx, and Old Vienna.

    Phyl, our jays are Stellar ; ) I’ve probably seen pine siskins in the west but didn’t know their names. Whoa, 100 birds is a LOT.

    Jody, ever since West Nile took all our crows in 2001, the local raptor population has exploded. When the winter migrant crows began to come back, they didn’t know how to mob raptors. They’d let a hawk swoop around among them and just shrug. In the past 11 years the winter crows have gotten older and more numerous, and the resident or spring-breeding crows have returned and built their numbers up again, and they’re now enthusiastically mobbing hawks. Crows have to learn all this stuff from their families. It’s not instinctual.

  3. Out on San Juan Island I saw a single seagull chase off a full-grown bald eagle. More nerve than brains, but she got away with it. (Locals said her nest was nearby.)

    The other day I saw an unusual birdish motion out of the corner of my eye, from my kitchen window — it was a Steller’s jay flitting from roof peak to roof peak. It moved in a completely different way from any of the other birds around here. (Seattle.) It’s been a while since one of them dropped by.