Dave Nemo Weekends on May 2-3 is all about birds and dinosaurs! In addition to "Natural Encounters" with Dr. Beehler, we'll talk to Crystal Slusher from the American Eagle Foundation. Check out Dollywood's Eagle Mountain Sanctuary eagle cam to watch Bald Eagles Glenda and Grant raise their newly hatched eaglet!
I like big birds and I cannot lie. I also like little birds. I've liked all birds, since I was a little girl wandering my mother's impeccable garden, watching them roll in the birdbath and then roll in the dirt, watching them at the feeders, watching them squabble and play.
I would flip through the family's Audubon Field Guide and pick out my favorites. But at the zoo, it was always the Rhea, an ostrich-looking biiiig bird with a remarkably sweet face. At the aquarium, penguins. At the park, mallards. Heck--we have ducks at the stoplights here in the New Orleans suburbs, wherever there's a canal dividing a major street. In my 20's I collected owls (until something broke inside me after receiving a pile of owl presents I had no use for during a birthday party and I had to stop collecting anything ever).
When I bought my home, I was thrilled at the prospect of my very own bird feeders. But this was hawk country. The most you'd see of a backyard songbird was some dead feathers. But over the years, the crows moved in, had a turf war, and took over. Now, the little songbirds flourish. I'm sitting in the backyard now, watching Carolina Chickadees, House Sparrows, Blue Jays, House Finches, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Mourning Doves, Northern Cardinals, and those heroes of the neighborhood, American Crows.
There were no freezes this past winter, so plants that should've died to the ground did not. The yard this year is lush and gorgeous and quarantine has meant that it's more important to me than ever. I pack a bag as if I'm leaving the house, and spend my entire workday under the patio umbrella, on my laptop, with the birds. (My Vitamin D levels are superb.) The birds have become obsession; they're entertainment, escape, and a 40lb-of-seed-a-month hobby. If I weren't also working outdoors, birding would be unbearably distracting.
My theory is this: High in the trees, the crows have been watching me. They see me out here for hours a day. They see me working, gardening, exercising, meditating, talking on the phone and Zoom. What they don't see is me hurting birds. They do see me feeding birds and squirrels. They see half a dozen weaker birds enjoying a non-stop all-you-can-eat buffet and even landing on my table while I work. And as for our pet mini-pig (who provided a couple oinks in this video), they see him napping, banging on the door to go in and then banging on the door to go out 3 minutes later, cooling off in his little pool, napping, eating, digging, napping. He's part of the landscape--and also--does not hurt birds.
So one day, the crows sent an ambassador down to the pergola, just to watch. And I bought some peanuts in the shell and put them in the feeder. A crow came. Before then, the Blue Jays were the big birds, but this crow dwarfed them! I watched through the window the first few days, and then noticed that they started perching in the trees around the yard, cawing when I would come out to work. Were they telling each other the peanut lady was there? Were they telling me they were ready to eat?
My theory: Both.
I invited Jimmy Mac to sit in my chair in the middle of one feeding frenzy, and they immediately stopped coming. They didn't know him. They've never seen him hurt birds, but they also haven't seen him put in long hours of not hurting birds. And wild American Crows don't live 8 years by being trusting.
Field guides are great but there are some terrific, free, digital resources from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Their website has wonderful photos, information, and audio recordings of any bird you can imagine. Also check out their Merlin app, which lets you either browse the most common birds in your location, or enter in characteristics of a bird you saw to figure out who it was.
And of course, we are so proud to have our very own ornithologist friend on Dave Nemo
Weekends the first Saturday of every month. Dr. Bruce Beehler has written some remarkable books about his travels around the world that are accessible to the non-scientist and capture the true beauty of the natural world.