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.
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.