Saturday, November 12, 2011


First thing in the morning, I stumble downstairs half-awake with my mind on making a cup of coffee. Once I have accomplished that, I need to see what's going on outside in the backyard. Through the big picture window I can see a little brown bunny rabbit nibbling grass by the green bushes lining the house. Four mourning doves blend in with the ground under the big house-shaped bird feeder where they savor dropped seed hulls. A grey junco pecks his yellow beak into the grass near the far corner of the yard. Then along come two robins with the same mission: looking for worms to eat. They work on a patch of ground in a nearer corner. A bright downy woodpecker works his way up and down the maple tree. His bright red head and checkered black and white body are striking next to the nuthatch, who blends into the tree. A cardinal, then a chickadee, then another cardinal, then a house finch, and later a blue jay fly to the feeder, land on it for a matter of seconds while taking up a few seeds, and then fly off to a nearby branch of maple, birch, pine, or cherry. The goldfinches prefer the long tubular Nyjer seed feeder and sometimes four will peck at it simultaneously for as long as an hour. Then, from under a stone near the house, comes the chipmunk, who scurries towards the sunflower seed feeder and up its pole without regard to the birds in his path who, startled, fly swiftly out of his way. He fills up his cheeks until they are just about to burst and then flies off the feeder in one bounding leap and runs back to his hole. Meanwhile, the black and grey squirrels chase each other into the yard from the neighbour's tree. The whole group, upset by the newcomers, fly off at once.

On a typical morning it is not unusual to witness dozens of creatures pass through the yard. Their busy activity, which mostly involves eating and drinking water from a large metal bowl by the main feeder, but also includes competing for space and mating, fascinates me. I watch them with as much curiosity as I do a good movie. I am curious when any one visitor is absent for several days. I would even say I worry when I think they might be in trouble. For example, there are about four female goldfinches who visit the back yard regularly, but there hasn't been any sign of a male goldfinch for months. What am I to think but that he died and left his family alone? But, of course, I know living in the wild is not easy. And, we are lucky to have such a healthy variety of species in this neighbourhood.

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