Unlike the protagonist of my new story, Carolina (shameless plug, sorry), I did not watch birds as a child, or even a teenager. I grew up in a relatively well-wooded suburb, and I’m sure there were plenty of birds around, but I was busy with other things (like trying to will a pet unicorn into existence, but that’s another story.) I did have pet birds (cockatiels) but never really turned my gaze outward to the trees.
So now as an adult having just picked up this bird watching hobby, everything is new to me! Bird fights on the porch over a peanut? Most exciting thing to happen all day! Red-winged blackbirds hanging out with the starlings? FASCINATING. A pileated woodpecker on the neighbor’s tree? HOLD THE PHONE MY LIFE IS COMPLETE. It’s all brand new and exciting.
Even the way the birds eat is fascinating to me, and when I see a particular behavior (e.g. the chickadees lining up politely on our clothes line to wait for their turn at the feeder) I look it up in one of our bird feeder guides that we’ve acquired.
So what have I learned about bird behavior? What wisdom have I brought back from the North American Birdfeeder Handbook? Which facts absolutely BLEW MY MIND? Funny you should ask.
- Chickadees employ a strict hierarchy, meaning there is one chickadee who is the biggest, baddest chickadee in the
flock. All the other chickadees give him the chance to eat first. Then the second biggest, baddest chickadee takes his turn, and so on. They all kind of look like cute little fluffy puffballs to me, so I’ll just trust the birds to determine who the most badass is.
- Male cardinals, while perfectly polite during breeding season, can be total douche nozzles during the winter, chasing the females away from the feeder. Hey, buddy! Just because you’re pretty doesn’t mean you get to boss your wife around, geez. (Though to be fair, this is pretty typical birdy behavior from what I can discern, and not that serious of an annoyance to the female.) Oh, another fun fact about cardinals is that they mate for life, which is not typically the case for a species where the male is so gorgeous. I guess I would feel kind of lucky as the mate of a particularly brilliant cardinal dude, knowing that his pretty feathers were just for my enjoyment. Suck it, other cardinal bitches!
- Doves and pigeons are basically the same kind of bird. They even both feed their nestlings a concoction called “pigeon milk” (aka crop milk,) which sounds vile but I’m sure is delicious to a baby pigeon/dove.
- Blue Jays are known to imitate the calls of hawks, a type of raptor known for their interest in munching on little tasty birdies. Scientists think the blue jays may be warning other blue jays that a hawk is near, or perhaps just trying to scare other birds away from the bird feeder so they can have all the sweet, sweet seed to themselves. This seems like a dickish move, but I understand. We can’t let that alpha chickadee and his gang get all the seed, now can we?
If you’d like to learn more about birds, let me recommend the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. They are amazing, and run several birdfeeder cams that my cat and I really enjoy watching. I think you will, too!