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Eli Newberger
Cardinals at bird feeder.

Illuminating the Hidden Forest, Chapter 30: For the love of birds

By Saturday, Jan 25, 2020 Life In the Berkshires

To read the previous chapters of ‘Illuminating the Hidden Forest,’ click here.

Jan. 24, 2020

Two years ago, we added a room to the back of our home to bring sunlight into the dark house. Now, as we sip our morning coffee, we look out at the trees through big new windows. We enjoy the birds as they peck and nibble at their breakfasts of suet, safflower, sunflower seeds and thistle strung in feeders on a wire between two stout trees.

These various feeders have introduced us to rose-breasted grosbeaks, pine siskins; blue jays, red-winged blackbirds, finches, chickadees, nuthatches; cardinal couples; a full flock of mourning doves; and red-breasted, hairy and downy woodpeckers in descending order of size. One tiny downy with a little red cap that looked like a yarmulke we named “the Rabbi.”

The bird feeders also introduced us to a community of squirrels, some fat and gray and others small and red. One of the feeders, which we keep full of sunflower seeds, is brass mesh shaped like an hourglass. Gray squirrels teeter along 12 feet of overhead wire to launch themselves onto the feeder, curling around its waist, feet gripping the mesh, tails hugging the curve. Though fiercely territorial with each other, the squirrels and birds feed happily together like a peaceable kingdom.

Some people try to keep squirrels off their bird feeders, but after watching a documentary about how smart and resourceful squirrels are, we thought, why not let them eat, too? And so we do.

We’ve noticed some interesting things about the birds, like the sociability of the doves, the devotion of the cardinal pairs, and how the chickadees and tufted titmice pull a single seed through the mesh, then fly to a branch on a large maple tree behind the wire, where they tap the shell against the branch in order to eat the seed inside. Then they return to the feeder for another helping. Sometimes we’ll see a squirrel nibble up the leavings on the branches.

Gray squirrel on bird feeder. Photo: Carolyn Newberger

Our big new windows brought an unexpected problem, though. Birds saw reflections of that big maple tree in the windows and, mistaking reflections for the tree itself, sometimes flew into the window. As the feeders are only about 10 feet away, when that happened, the bird usually just glanced off and flew away. But sometimes a bird would fall to the ground, stunned. On one occasion a tufted titmouse managed to fall back to the fence under the feeders, grab the top fence wire with its little feet, and hang upside down, its beak open against the wire below. The good news is that it took a little time, but the upside-down bird gradually recovered, fluttered up and flew away, as did the stunned bird off the ground. Distressed, I read about collisions between birds and windows and realized that many encounters do not end so happily.

Something had to be done. I Googled “birds and windows,” which led me to anti-collision decals. The same day, though the weather was cold and blustery, I wrestled ladder to windows and stuck on strips of masking tape. A few days later on an equally blustery day, I visited the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, where, in the gift shop, I found lovely packets of bird decals that cling magically to the outsides of windows. So up the ladder I went again, peeling the shapes of flying birds from their backings and spreading them across the panes. The collisions declined immediately, from often to very rare.

Now, a year later, we sip our coffee and gaze through bird silhouettes at the living birds: doves perching in the trees; the cardinal pair dining compatibly on the safflower seeds; winter-plumed goldfinches squabbling around the thistle; woodpeckers pecking on the suet; juncos on the ground cleaning up the leavings; and the squirrel curled greedily around the sunflower feeder. All for the love of birds.

You can find more information on feeding and protecting our wild birds as well as how you can be involved in their welfare at massaudubon.org. Do also visit our beautiful Berkshire sanctuaries: Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary at 472 West Mountain Road in Lenox; Canoe Meadows off Holmes Road in Pittsfield; Lime Kiln in Sheffield; and, for a heron rookery, Tracy Brook in Richmond.

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