Steady rain all weekend made it so that the birding was effectively feederwatching. First, the highlight:
For the second year in a row, my feeder has hosted a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Or in this case, three Red-breasted Nuthatches, which is a pretty neat trick.
Helping more than my one meager feeder filled with sunflower seeds to attract these stellar irruptive visitors is the row of 50 foot spruce trees along the edge of our backyard. I do what I can.
Feederwatchig is a technique I am not ashamed of, especially when it is the only way to get two species of nuthatch in the same shot. It also provides some interesting drama as you observe the power struggles between the same individual birds over the course of a couple of days.
Each bird has its own unique way of using the food source, and species seem to dominate and yield to others in not quite truly hierarchical fashion. To start, there are three main styles of bird feedering:
The Traditionalists fly in, eat some seeds for a while, then fly away to go do other bird things. Adherents to this style include Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow, and Blue Jay.
The Gluttons fly in and stay put eating as much as they can until they are forced off. American Goldfinch, House Finch, and Mourning Dove are Gluttons.
The Dart-and-Runners fly in, take a single bite, and fly away to finish or stash it somewhere else. Time on the feeder is minimized to the greatest extent possible, and practitioners include Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and both White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches.
This is only part of the story, though. Each species also seems to have an unspoken relationship with all of the others.
We will start at the top of the food chain.
Blue Jays have a bad reputation, but in my yard they have only shown aggression to raptors. They don’t get pushed around by anybody, but they also don’t push others around. They also aren’t very frequent visitors to the feeder, so that may be why.
Northern Cardinals, on the other hand, are the usual owners of the joint. They will not be moved by anyone, plus they show extreme aggression toward House Sparrows. They will tolerate other birds only until they get too close, and then anything is fair.
House Sparrows are despised by all, and for good reason. They will swarm in numbers making their presence impossible to oust from the feeders, plus they are aggressive to most other manner of bird. When I was observing, the most frequent target was House Finch.
House Finches didn’t take it lying down, though. These birds will not start a fight, but they will fight back if pushed.
Tufted Titmice for the most part seemed to attack each other.
Meanwhile, Carolina Chickadees were the most peaceful species. In addition to showing no aggression, they also were infrequently if ever targets of bullying themselves.
White-breasted Nuthatches don’t pick on anyone, and they also don’t stick around long enough to get picked on themselves. Their strategy is to fly in, perch on the pole or baffle, and wait for an opening. Then they seize the opportunity.
Red-breasted Nuthatches operate largely in the same way, but instead of hanging around close by, they will fly in from literally out of nowhere to grab an empty seat at the table. They are also ridiculously tolerant of close approaches by humans. At one point I stood a foot away from the feeder and they still came and went as usual.
And finally, American Goldfinches come in big groups, hang upside-down, eat forever, and generally have a good time. All species seem to like them except House Sparrows.
Of course, birds are not the only ones using the feeders.
My set-up is largely mammal-proof (see: raccoons), but the furry ones have lofty goals.