White Breasted Nuthatch Cardinal

Feathered Meditation

Red-breasted Nuthatches are attracted to suet feeders.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are attracted to suet feeders.

Simple pleasures.  I suppose it is a consequence of aging, and the ability to find pleasure sitting in one place for long periods of time and letting your eyes and mind be entertained by the small feathered creatures that fill your yard.   Personally, I find it’s almost hypnotic to watch the flittering, skittering movement of birds as they land on the ground and pick through all the bird seeds tossed out from the feeders up above.

What better activity on a cloudy afternoon, then to pull up a chair next to the sliding glass door, with a cup of hot tea in hand and observe the non-stop action at the feeders.  We have put up an assortment of styles dispensing black sunflower seeds, thistle seed, and suet.  We have taken down our gigantic feeder, which held 100 lbs of seed, because it became too popular as a squirrel diner.

So what was coming to our feeders on this early March day? Common Redpolls, American Goldfinch, Blue Jays, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, American Crows, a Downy Woodpecker and best of all, a Pileated Woodpecker.

Hanging from the eaves of the house, just a foot away from my viewing point is a suet ‘cage’ where two little Red-breasted Nuthatches vie for the best position.  They nimbly go up, down and around the square which holds a shrinking block of suet. We have two thistle feeders.  These are designed especially to attract the smaller beaked finches.  The Redpolls and Goldfinch sweep up and down from the branches of the nearby spruce and maple trees, nibbling their way along the ground on the packed snow.  Why these birds suddenly lift off en masse and then resettle moments later remains a mystery.  I’m always looking for some sort of aerial predator, but never see one.  The small birds are high strung and tuned to the slightest variations that might signal danger.  The Chickadees are less easily frightened.  They make regular sorties to the various hanging feeders, ‘chipping’ in avian conversation that I find quite endearing.

Blue Jays travel and feed in flocks, especially in the winter months.

Blue Jays travel and feed in flocks, especially in the winter months.

The Blue Jays are the most abundant species this winter. They used to be fond of that big feeder and other than the squirrels, probably ate the most seeds from it.  Most of the current feeders either have a metal cage around the central tube of seed, or have very small perches, so the bigger birds are not able to get at the food.  We still put seeds out on a smaller wooden platform on top of a metal pole and this is where the Blue Jays prefer to eat.  They will also grab chunks of suet and stuff their gular pouch until it bulges and they fly off to deposit the contents in some safe hiding spot.  Chickadees sneak in for quick snacks, and Woodpeckers grab a hold of the cage and eat at their leisure.

When the Pileated Woodpecker lands (that flame crowned monarch of the forest) my attention is completely focused on this magnificent bird.  He swoops up to the red pine with the suet cage hanging on its side and pokes his powerful beak into the spaces, delicately picking out bits and pieces.  From there he performs a graceful curtsy of flight to the dead stump of a tree and probes the rotting heartwood for insect larvae.  His last stop is the deteriorating aspen, where he cocks his head from side to side examining potential soft spots. Soon he is chipping away layers of bark and deepening excavations started on a previous visit, all the while using his long, curled tongue to extricate

Pileated woodpecker at suet feeder

Monarch of the Woodpeckers – the Pileated is the size of a Crow.

tidbits of protein rich insects.

Yes, I could spend hours in this form of feathered meditation and I would recommend it to anyone who is finding it hard to let go of stressful thoughts or situations.  The birds live in much more perilous conditions than any of us, yet they go about their day with a single minded focus on each activity and manage to keep up a constant cheerful chatter the whole time.  Good role models for us all.

By Kate Crowley