Dine-In or Carry-Out

Before I started to create this post, I had to find out where I stood in the greater scheme of things – wild bird related things, that is.

At Wikapedia I read that “Over 55 million Americans over the age of 16 feed wild birds and spend more than $3 billion a year on bird food, and $800 million a year on bird feeders, bird baths, bird houses and other bird feeding accessories.”

I’ve been able to determine that I’m not weird or abnormal regarding my love for the wildlife around me. Whew!

I buy stuff to feed the wild birds that come to visit or are permanent residents at our property. It’s a hobby and as such, I don’t need to explain it. My conservative, somewhat penny-pinching father told me that in my youth. As a person born in 1929, he had seen and experienced many struggles. Yet he wanted us kids to know that, as long as you are taking care of your required needs, you can have a hobby and you don’t need to justify it. I always thought that was a wee bit contradictory of my dad’s basic disposition, but I loved him for it.

So, I buy stuff for the birds. The question is, am I purchasing the right stuff for these lovely creatures? I wouldn’t want to provide something that isn’t safe for them, and I also want to give them what they need. For example, the Bluebirds completely snubbed the dried meal worms that we offered as they were getting close to fledging their brood last summer. They were working hard at bringing enough protein to feed their growing chicks, so we put out a small dish of the dehydrated fair. I guess they wanted to offer their young the highest quality nutrition regardless of how hard their toiled to achieve that goal. But, let’s face it, I wouldn’t have eaten those dried up worms, either.

Still, the Carolina Wren is seen here with a meal worm in her beak after performing her outrageously fast Drive-Thru behavior on the feeding station at the north end of Pond Meadow. Unlike when the Bluebirds were raising their chicks, it’s now colder and the selection of real-meat protein (insects) is dwindling to close to nothing. I’m glad Robert thought it wise to include the mealworms on the feeder platform.

This Carolina Wren also nabs the loose peanuts that are mixed in with sunflower and safflower seeds. She likes to (quickly!) hang on the tube feeder that contains suet-peanut pellets and take a few beaks worth of the high fat offering. And, I’ve seen her at the standard square suet-plus-cracked corn feeder, as well. I’ve even seen her pulling a piece of peanut out of a glob of chunky peanut butter that we smeared on the feeding station. As far as Dine-In or Carry-Out, she’s a Carry-out kind of gal.

I’ve also seen a Northern Mockingbird grab a mealworm or two, and he definitely likes peanuts. Perhaps a bit too much! Here’s a sequence of photos that ends in what might appear to be a self-imposed Heimlich maneuver – but I think it’s just an itch that needed to be scratched!

Mr. Mockingbird is definitely a Dine-In sort of customer. He rarely grabs and goes, rather choosing to methodically scrutinize his options, while scanning the doors to the Diner for any possible incoming threats. I suspect if he were human he’d order the standard “PB&J” (peanut butter and jelly) sandwich, since he likes to consume the fresh grapes and peanuts in one “sitting.”

I figured out a way to offer the grapes at an “outdoor seating” location a few feet from the platform feeder. I purchased a feeder that is designed to help woodpeckers feed on the suet via a tail-prop bottom portion. Apparently, woodpeckers use their tails to hang vertically on a tree truck during feeding, so this model supports their needs. I decided to break a standard suet square in half, put it in the bottom half of the feeder, and load the grapes above it. The solid fat suet prevents grape juice from penetrating the wooden frame. Yeah, I patted myself on the back for that one! The Mockingbird took to the new “seating section” of the diner quite quickly.

I transported the standard square suet feeder to our new feeding station down at the lower west end of the pond. Robert, who completely supports my hobby in any way that he can (because I have a wonderful husband!), cut through six foot tall weeds and thickets to create access to a part of the property we hadn’t been able to get to for years. We set up a small platform feeder on a tree in a clearing that Robert created. The second day, a Mockingbird showed up on a Trail Cam eating grapes out of the same “fruit on top” format.

While Mockingbirds are Dine-in customers, the Red-bellied woodpecker is very much a drive-thru sort of gal. She begins calling from across the meadow as if to announce she’s on her way. Then, she flies in and lands in a nearby tree. A half a minute later or less, she flits down, settles on the feeder and selects her goodie. It’s nearly always a peanut. Then, she does a peculiar behavior. She glances slightly upwards and due north (left in any of these images.) I watched this behavior repeat many times over one day and I felt as if she was looking at the cashier and asking for this new peanut to be added to her tab before she flew off.

The Tufted Titmouse is a species I just recently caught on film, but not with stellar photographic prowess. It is definitely a Drive-Thu specialist. Its approach to the feeder is methodical, and when it finally reaches the platform, it performs a quick grab and go behavior.

While the Titmouse, Carolina Wren and the Red-bellied Woodpecker are clearly Drive-Thru customers, the “little birds” as I refer to them, are more likely to Dine-In. The most common birds that spend minutes at a time on the platform feeders are White-crowned Sparrows, House Finches, Goldfinches and Pine Siskins. At least that is the case at this time. They stick around picking at the dining options which are black oiler sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, sunflower chips (hulled sunflowers) peanuts and fruit that I try to replenish a couple times a week. The dining room can be quite crowded during peak times, but the birds seem to be able to negotiate their landings and take-offs without trouble. On occasion I will observe a group of nearly all the same species eating together. I wonder if they booked the “conference room” for some sort of meeting!

These birds do like to “eat in.” But, they also do quite a bit of carry-out, as well. It’s not unusual that I film a bird on a nearby tree branch with a seed in its beak. It’s sort of like relaxing in front of the TV with a carton of Chinese Take-out.

When an unexpected guest arrives at the Diner, the outcome can be varied – from complete tolerance to a very fast exit. When it comes to the Red-bellied Woodpecker, it seems that a fly over is much more tolerated than a pop up from below. But some birds are simply more tolerant of unforeseen circumstances.

On occasion I have to simply tilt my head and wonder what the intention of a specific behavior might be. Do you think this House Finch is performing a massage, hitching a ride, or maybe helping the other bird dislodge a seed that is stuck in its throat?

I found this next photo very curious. It is a picture of our new feeding station at the lower west pond, which I’ve hardly been able to visit due to several days of over twenty MPH winds and overcast skies. My perception is a product of my environment – which at this time is associated with experiencing a pandemic for the past many months. Have you heard about it?

These birds look as if they are gaining access to the feeder one-at-a-time while practicing social distancing! So patient they appear.

I suppose one of the most common reason that people provide food to wild birds is to gain the opportunity to ask those exact questions (“What is that bird Doing?”) from the comfort of their kitchen table while sipping a nice, mellow tea or hearty cup of coffee. I’ve set up our feeding stations way out in our property so no comfy kitchen for me. Still, I can sit with a warm, winter jacket and a knit hat in the brisk, fresh air. With my camera in hand, balanced on the steering wheel of the golf cart, I find my time with nature incredibly restorative, even if I look a bit crazy. Nobody’s looking (except my husband who snuck this shot!)

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