The music of the feeders | News, Sports, Jobs


Photo by Eric Ellingson Red-breasted nuthatches can be seen moving along bark and branches for food, but they will also visit bird feeders.

Watching birds in feeders has become a morning routine at home. With the feeders fully stocked and the coffee freshly poured, I sit at the dining room table and watch. Always a fan of lists, I began to write down the species I see and use tally marks to count the number of each species. Sometimes I try to draw or capture the right colors.

My partner saw the list one morning and said: “If you keep doing the list, I can take it and make a spreadsheet. Then we can see patterns. Ha! It reminded me that there are many ways to know, document and appreciate the world. He keeps spreadsheets on a lot of things, eager to know the world through numbers, data, and formulas. I was keeping the list primarily to give my fingers something to do while I was watching and seeing where they are leading my thoughts.

A little dreamy one morning, I wondered if anyone had documented and enjoyed the birds at the feeders through music. Not with the songs and calls of birds to communicate with each other, but with music to capture their movements and behaviors. They share space and move a bit like musicians and their music in an orchestra. Has anyone already written “Sonata au nourisseur in D minor” Where “Symphony for the birds of the garden”?

It sounds silly, but several pieces of instrumental music that tell a story easily come to mind. I remember visualizing a big battle every year on July 4th when the local philharmonic orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s song “Opening of 1812” – with cannons! I hear the changes of the natural world throughout the year in the “Four Seasons”. I am not a musician, but someone who appreciates music for the color it gives to life and as another way of knowing the world.

In my non-musician mind, I imagine the music that would tell the story of my Sunday morning birdwatching. With nature as the conductor, the tempo is set by hunger and instinct. The song would begin with a single black-capped chickadee. Always the first to return after filling the feeder, the music of this little bird would be soft, high-pitched and fast. Maybe a piccolo? He flies to the feeder, grabs a sunflower seed and walks away again, landing on a more protected perch to open it. As soon as the shell falls to the ground, it comes back for another seed. Inside and outside. Inside and outside. A few other tits come and go and come and go. They join them, like singing in circles, with the same pattern starting at different times.

Photo of Terry LeBaron Minor Woodpecker on tallow in the backyard.

The music rises in intensity as more birds arrive. Black-eyed Juncos hover on the ground, their little round bodies hopping under the bushes in search of small seeds. Jump, jump, jump, scratch, scratch. White-breasted nuthatches with nasal sound zoom in with their sounding beaks. They grab seeds and bring them to a particular place on the rhododendron to peck them. Tap, tap, tap, tap. The softer bushy tits are coming. And two northern cardinals, one male, one female. It’s too early in the year for them to be paired up, but they still seem to be traveling together. Maybe a short duet of them. Maybe clarinets?

This rapid burst would be punctuated by the jerky drumming of the minor woodpecker on the tallow. And sometimes a single red-breasted nuthatch shows up, pounding the fat-filled cake. His black and white striped head and brown belly is a pleasant surprise. In my imaginary orchestra, it is an instrument with a somewhat foreign sound. Suitable for this nuthatch, as it is not as common to feeders as its white-breasted cousin.

Then fly away the American goldfinches and house sparrows. They are seated on the four perches of the feeder. And stay. They collect the seeds, finding smaller millet and safflower that fit in their tiny beaks. The action calms down. A few other birds try to settle in but are continually hunted until the finches and sparrows are full.

Then a larger interruption occurs. Loud and dissonant sound. Two blue jays descend, wings outstretched. They must land on the ground because they are too big for the feeder. Things are chaotic for a while. Like bullies, they hunt all other birds except the most persistent.

The songbird chorus comes back for a while, even with the Blue Jays part of the mix. Then suddenly everyone freezes and is silent. A dark shadow of a hawk appears above. An ominous bass sound could represent Coopers or Sharp-Shinned Hawks, two common predators of birds at feeders. They are the main melody for a while as they watch the Norway spruce. This is the bridge towards the end of the song. The conflict that makes the listener wonder what will happen next.

Photo of Katie Finch Black-capped Chickadees are bold enough to land and feed with one hand, in addition to being common visitors to feeders throughout the year.

But one by one, the small, light sounds of the seed-eating songbirds return. Of course, the tits come back first. Are they the hungrier? Or the most daring? Or the one that makes the least sense? I will imagine that they are the bravest, because you can do it by wondering and imagining. And on a lazy Sunday morning, that’s how I want to know the world. A small fact, mixed with a little playfulness, sprinkled with music and history. Facts can wait another day. It’s good to remember, like Willy Wonka said “A little nonsense from time to time is appreciated by the wisest men.”

If you want to feed the birds, Audubon’s Blue Heron gift shop has a variety of feeders and seeds. You can stock up on seeds at a good discount through the Winter Sale of Birdseed. Orders are accepted until January 28. And if you write a sonata describing the actions of birds at the manger, I would love to hear it!

Audubon Community Nature Center connects and nurtures people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk, as is Liberty, the bald eagle. The Nature Center is open, including restrooms, the Blue Heron gift shop, indoor natural playground, and most exhibits. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.

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