A Sidebar for Birds
"The Fish Journal" Issaquah Press, Published June 15 2010

By Dallas Cross

Pine siskin
Pine Siskin

Band Tail pigeons

On Squak Mountain, my wife and I live near the undeveloped parks department forest between the two cemeteries. There is a lot of deadfall in the woods, making it a desirable habitat for many bird species. One of our pleasures is identifying the birds that take advantage of our year-round feeding station.

Finding that the feeder hung from a failing wire between the eave of the house and our fence, and coping with raids from tight wire-walking gray squirrels, we took advantage of a friend's offer of a granite pole base and mounted our wooden bird feeder on a metal pole and placed it on the patio, where we could watch it from a window.

After charging the feeding hoppers, the expected onslaught of rodent raiders began. It was time for squirrel thwarting.

First, there was a ground attack whereas non-native, gray squirrels climbed the pole and swung over a small prevention device. Finding an old-fashioned garage light reflector of 16-inch diameter, I made a hole for the pipe and fastened it on the pole below the feeder. The sloping, enameled upper surface was slippery enough to prevent purchase from the rodents' grasping claws.

Next came the airborne attack. It was first met by moving the six-foot high feeder a foot or two farther than we saw successful jumps from the bird bath, the back wall, the garden box and any other elevated structure near the patio. The attacks from the roof of the house were particularly effective, as flings of up to a 10-foot horizontal distance allowed them to grab the top of the feeder and hang on. It turned out that there was only one 4-square-foot area on the patio that worked.

May and June are always wonderful times for bird watching, as migrating species appear and birds with young seek more food. At our feeder, the regular winter customers of chickadees, pine siskin, juncos, black-headed grosbeaks, towhees, jays and flickers were joined by many lesser seen birds. This past month, we saw goldfinches and yellow Wilson's warblers with a black beret on the top of the male's head. A pair of band-tailed pigeons emerged from the woods and warily grabbed some seeds, keeping an eye open for their two major threats, hawks and people. The variety of woodpeckers increased to six and included the huge, Woody Woodpecker prototype - pileated woodpecker, a rare Lewis woodpecker with a peculiar pink front and white ring around its neck, and a pair of hairy woodpeckers.

It was one of these hairy woodpeckers that presented us with the most touching interaction we have witnessed at the feeder. A young pine siskin was pecking along in its mellow way at the feeder when a hairy woodpecker clumped on the porch. The siskin scurried to the other side and crept back to watch the huge bird eating some sunflower kernels from around the corner.

The young siskin then moved out into plain view of the woodpecker and straightened itself forward into the universal food begging position of young birds. After cocking its head toward the brash arrival, the woodpecker grabbed a seed and offered it to the siskin. The young bird accepted the sunflower kernel from the larger bird's beak and resumed the begging position.

I frantically ran for the camera in the other room while my wife continued to watch. I returned to see the fourth feeding, but the woodpecker flew off before I could snap a shot.

Our conjecture is that the siskin was of similar size to the woodpecker's own young and its instinct in response to a begging chick prompted the interspecies feeding. Whatever caused the behavior it certainly emphasizes the beauty of parental response toward any hungry chick. Perhaps a model for us all to contemplate in these more difficult times.

Reach Dallas Cross at FishJournal@aol.com.
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