Magpies, Squirrels and Crows

Keeping squirrels away from the bird feed is almost impossible.  Keeping magpies away from squirrel food is harder, and they are more voracious.  I’ve got an old bird feeder filled with peanuts, and the squirrels have to work for their food by climbing the feeder pole, balancing on top the feeder, hanging over the edge by their hind legs, and digging out a peanut or two.  It’s part of my squirrel aerobics program to help keep them in shape. 
Magpies, on the other hand, swoop in early in the morning, or any time they feel like it, chase away all other critters, fly at the feeder to rock it back and forth spilling peanuts onto the ground.  With a half dozen magpies making repeated strikes, a feeder full of peanuts can be emptied in an hour or less.  I finally put a tarp over it this morning, hoping that the squirrels would be smart enough to go under it.  The magpies held a convention to discuss the matter and make their complaints known.  Then they flew off.  The squirrels didn’t like the tarp idea so I took it off.  Maybe I’ll do it all over again tomorrow morning.  Retirement gives one the time to experiment like that.  New horizons they call it. 
This all started a couple of years ago with bird feeding, and then squirrel feeding to give the birds a chance at their own food.  I wonder if the next step is magpie feeding.  I hope not.  Just for the record, the neighborhood crows, who do not care for magpies either, are content to pick up crumbs off the ground and use the bird bath to soften up whatever food they have scrounged off the street. 
In other back yard news, the bird houses appear to have been leased up for the winter by new tenants, sparrows as usual.  There seem to be one or two minor property disputes about who the real lessee is.

Spring Bird Report

I have not written much about birds lately, but it’s spring and time.  Both our bird houses are occupied.  Three rafters supporting our large overhang have sparrow nests in them, and we have a variety of other birds doing the same in nearby trees and bushes.  The first fledglings have already been kicked out of the nest, and we’ve learned something new (for us).
Fledgling sparrows flit about the back yard occasionally bouncing off a window or tree trunk.  Their landings on the ground under the bird feeders are little more than soft crashes, and their attempts at landing on the feeders are hilarious.  But here is what we did not know before.  The parent birds are always near.  They appear quite deliberate about teaching the chicks how to eat natural foods, but now and then one of them will hop over to put a seed into a chick’s open mouth.  I did not know that there was parental aftercare once the fledglings were out of the nest.  I thought is was sink or swim and good luck.  
As for the flicker, it is nowhere in sight.  I guess it finally got the message.  Our usual gang of healthy, noisy crows assure us that West Nile has kept its distance.  Some sort of small blackbird we can’t identify has moved into the neighborhood.  I have no idea where the finches nest but they come here by the dozens for their meals.  The resident squirrels have made peace with the birds and seem happy to join them in poking around the yard for fallen seeds.  They are bold enough to scavenge a few feet from the patio door with a hysterical Riley the terrier on the other side yelping to get out.   Once he’s out and the squirrels are safely up a tree, the birds seem content to resume ground feeding without fear while Riley patrols or dozes. 
And that’s the bird report for now.  

Finch Feeding and Hockey

We’ve been watching the fall finches for a couple of weeks. I don’t know where they go in mid-summer, but spring and fall brings them to our feeders by the dozens. They jostle each other for position and have no hesitation about knocking each other off the desired perch, or even body-checking in mid-air in order to keep each other from landing. The prescribed penalty box seems to be the top of the feeders where there are no seeds. They are intent, and our dogs wandering in and out of the house don’t appear to faze them much. I wonder if finch feeding is what gave Charles Schultz the idea for bird hockey games played on the frozen rink of the birdbath with Snoopy as the coach. As far as I can tell, the main difference between finch feeding and hockey is the lack of bench clearing fights. That and the lack of sticks, puck, scoring and referees, but those are minor points.

Well, that’s the end of that profound thought. Maybe I’m not getting enough oxygen.

The Price of Sparrows and the Love of God

I have a birdhouse just outside my study window. It’s busy with the coming and going of adult sparrows laying, hatching and feeding chicks, and juvenile sparrows trying to discover life on the outside. Over the course of a summer a nesting pair in my birdhouse might hatch a couple dozen chicks. We have a second one on the other side of the yard, so one might expect that we would be overrun by Hitchockian swarms of sparrows. In fact there are quite a few for weeks at a time, but eventually they all fly off somewhere, and we are left with only a few from fall through winter. Where do they all go? I imagine that most of them die before spring comes again. A sparrow’s life can appear very cheap indeed.

Matthew said that two sparrows were sold for a penny. Luke waged a price war with five sparrows for two pennies. They were the cheap animals that the poor could afford as an acceptable substitute to the more expensive sacrificial lamb; the throw away animal for the throw away people. But not in God’s eyes. Matthew and Luke agree at least on this, that not one of them will fall to the ground apart from God, and that we are more valuable than many sparrows. We are not more valuable because of our faith or how we express it. We are more valuable because we are God’s beloved creatures. That’s all and that’s enough.

If God cares enough for the lives of sparrows that not one would die apart from God’s love, why do we find make it so difficult to accept how much God loves us? Time and again I have counseled with persons who were taught from childhood that they were sinners already condemned to burn for eternity in hell by a wrathful God, and their only hope was to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior, yet constantly warned that they were always on the verge of losing whatever grace might flow to them through him. In trembling fear they are more certain of their damnation than their salvation. What rot! The damage done in childhood by incompetent preachers can take a lifetime to overcome, and it is shameful.

Jesus himself said that he did not come to condemn but to save, not to take life but to give it in abundance, not incite fear but to endow love. We are reminded that while were yet sinners knowing nothing of God’s intent, Christ was sent to us. We are sinners yet, and we are called to a life of confession, repentance and renewal through Jesus Christ, but it is not a life motivated by fear. It is a life motivated by the love that God has poured out upon us and continues to pour out upon us, undeserving as we might be.

I guess this sounds like a diatribe, and I guess it is because I’d like to see more energy put into sharing the good news of God in Christ with those who have never heard it than trying to heal the wounds of those who have heard it wrong.

The Flicker Saga, part IV

It’s time to take on The Flicker again. Some readers may need to be reminded of a number of posts chronicling my battle with the persistent flicker who invaded my house late last summer, pecked a hole high up in the exterior wall, and took up winter residence therein. Steve the contractor came over this week to work out some plans for better insulation, and while he was at it also took on the repair of the flicker hole, a nest of starlings inside a vent, and some miscellaneous issues up on the roof. What he found in the garage attic was a flicker nest the size of a dog bed. That bird had made him/herself a four star Ritz Carlton hideaway, now occupied by more starlings on a sublet. A little cleaning, a little patching, a little carpentry to take away any place to perch and peck, and I can confidently assert that, as of this evening, we have no more flicker and/or starling nests in our house. I can start removing their outside wall decorations soon. Whether it stays that way is another question altogether. Tomorrow the insulation people show up to do whatever it is that they do, which has nothing to do with flickers or starlings, but it’s supposed to keep us warmer in winter, cooler in summer and save on utility bills. They way I figure it, the flicker will just consider this a Ritz Carlton renovation designed especially for him/her.

Flicker, Part Three

Regular readers will recall several posts about my flicker – the flicker that pecked a large hole in the side of my house and took up winter residency. Apparently he/she is now intent on creating a duplex, because he/she is busy working on another flicker sized hole. Now I’m a peaceable man and not prone to violence, but I’m seriously thinking of buying an air rifle to aid in, how shall I say it, serving a rather abrupt eviction notice. As Rachel Maddow says, I need to be talked down on this.