Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Sound of Birds Chewing

Last winter B purchased two bird feeders and hung them outside on our patio.  It's so dreary in the long gray winter, it was nice to watch the birds that discovered our feeder grow in number as the winter went on. Most common were the little black-headed juncos and the goldfinches in their drab winter coats.  One day I was surprised to look up and see a hawk sitting close by on the fence.  Unfortunately, he seemed to be holding something and then a white feather drifted down.  It may have been a rough winter for the wildlife; another time all the little birds were snacking as usual when suddenly, as one they all whooshed away.  The hawk was back.  He came and landed near the feeder, looking around in his large imperiousness. 

As it began to turn into spring, we got more variety.  Mourning Doves began to come around, the males with their subtly pink tummies, and fat quail with their quick stepping glide.  The goldfinches lost their winter coats and became brilliant yellow.  I love how a goldfinch always manages to look like a poem, no matter what he is doing.  Some birds come for only a short time.  For a few days a towhee sampled some of the seeds that had dropped to the ground.  As we decorated Easter eggs, a red-wing blackbird stopped by.  One of the most surprising was a huge Northern Flicker.  He was way too big for the feeder, but that didn't stop him from trying.  He clung on underneath with his feet and his weight tipped the whole feeder so that seeds spilled toward him and huge piles dropped to the ground.  The following is not a great picture because of the glare on the glass, but you get the idea.

Our most common visitors are now an assortment of finches and sparrows.  The juncos must have another summer home in a different location because they are gone.  The starlings that have their nests in the eaves of the house next door are back and make lots of noise, but I'm glad they don't come to feed often.  Their cries-- I wouldn't call their noises songs, have a huge variety.  I've read that they are good at imitating the sounds of other birds.  These starlings must spend some of their time in the open fields because they have one cry that sounds almost like a hawk--the bird sound you hear in the movies when the main character ends up in the middle of nowhere.  Some of them do a really good meadow lark impersonation.  They almost get it right, but the final trill at the end that always make me think of a drop of water doesn't have the same lilt.

But!  Our most surprising visitors in the last days have been baby quail!!  As I was getting the kids to the table for lunch some days ago, I looked up and saw a bunch of tiny chicks skittering about while their parents stood watch.  They were so little!  Small enough to fit inside a golf ball while their plump parents are more like modest cantalopes.  It is startling how fast they move.  The parents, especially the dad, are really good at keeping a constant lookout for danger.  As the family feeds, the parents quietly cluck, then make a distinct "get over here now" sound if someone wanders too far or if there is a hint of danger.
There are ten of them.  There may have been eleven to start with, but they blend in so well and move so fast that it is difficult to count them.  They seem to have no qualms about finding the seed they want.  If another sparrow or finch is eating in a certain spot, a tiny quail just ducks his head down barrels right there and the sparrow flies out of the way.  One day I even saw one chase a dove several times his size.

Just like human babies, they seem to need a lot of naps.  Every once in awhile, the parents call everyone over and all the chicks tuck underneath and everyone rests.  One day I looked out and saw the parents sitting side by side.  They looked so cute together.  Usually they don't sit so close.  As I was taking pictures, one little chick escaped from Mom, but went right over to Dad.  Maybe there was more room under him.

Since the quail chicks have arrived, we've been more interested in watching them than the other birds.  Each day finds them a little bigger.  Their legs seem to be growing the fastest right now.  The babies don't need to sit down and rest quite as often, but Papa and Mama continue to guard them closely.

Since I started writing this post, the number of chicks seems to have diminished.   It appears we're down to 7.  Drat those neighborhood cats.  Everyone thinks their own cat wouldn't hunt birds, but a cat is a cat is a cat.  Since the babies arrived, I've counted four different cats prowling about, clearly up to no good.

Hopefully, I'll get more pictures of our feathered visitors as the little ones grow.

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