Finch o’clock at the Avian Cafe

[NOTE: View a brief “cafe” video clip here.]
Mr. Cardinal waits in Redbud for cafe seating
Mr. Cardinal waits in the Redbud for cafe seating

With the bird feeders directly outside the kitchen window, we are able to observe our flying neighbors over time. I’ve noticed that the breeds seem to arrive more in groups than not, and at specific times during the day.

This makes sense: there are probably over five hundred individuals who dine at the Bluestone Avian Cafe, and clearly they can’t all be seated at the same time. As it is, squabbles over the best tables happen regularly. This morning the finches arrived en masse — purple, house, gold — all trying to get to the nyjer (“thistle” to those who aren’t sensitive about weeds in their gardens) and black oil sunflower seeds at the same time.

The finches jostle and feed until the cardinals show up. They seem to jump the scheduling gun a bit, arriving in the redbud tree staging area before the finches have had their fill.  Bigger and showier, it doesn’t take long for the bossy red males to shove the smaller patrons out of the cafe. The only remaining little guys are the titmice, eating suet on the far side of the tree.

We have at least five regular cardinal couples dining at the cafe. We’ve seen all five at the same time, so we’re sure about the count. On the other hand, since most birds frequent the feeders several times a day, we don’t know for sure if five is all we have. Probably not. Cardinals do very well in the woodland that surrounds us.

Mrs. C enjoying the cafe view between bites
Mrs. C enjoying the cafe view between bites

Downy woodpeckers, the smallest of their kind in North America, are regulars, too. They share nicely and are not threatening, so they drop in now and then, whenever they’re in the neighborhood. No one seems to take offense at their presence; they grab a stool long enough to get a mouthful, then take off for Redbud to enjoy their treat in peace.

The Downy’s larger cousin Hairy makes an occasional appearance, but he seems to be more of the fly-by sort: if I’m here when the food’s available, I’ll drop in. Later in spring the Redbellied couple will try to eat here, but they are both too large for the seats and will eventually give up and head to the woods.

Larger birds generally don’t do well here at the cafe, though they aren’t above trying.  Blue jays, starlings, grackles, even a hopeful crow have all stopped in to see if they can mooch a free meal. Finding the self-closing doors of the feeder slamming shut under their weight they, too, usually take off for more amenable digs. Occasionally, though, one will discover a way to cling to the mounting bracket, slipping a hungry beak into the seed supply. Luckily for the smaller birds, this is quite a taxing acrobatic feat, and no one seems able to maintain it for long.

Unusual winter guests, these grackles practically cleaned out the cafe in the brief time they were here.
Unusual winter guests, these grackles practically cleaned out the cafe in the brief time they were here.

Though they prefer dining in the basement with the blue jays and some sparrows, juncos will take a turn at the feeders when the ground is covered in deep snow. In spite of their nun-like black and white attire, they have rather aggressive dining manners; they’re tough enough to shoo a mourning dove or a cardinal away to take their turn and will do it without a tinge of remorse.

The more I watch our non-human companions, the more I see how much we have in common. There are days when woodpecker dining is my preference (just give me a sandwich and let me eat out under a tree by myself); or maybe I’m in more of a finch mood, zipping back and forth in the kitchen, grabbing a bite here, a nosh there.

I do my best not to be a junco among my wider family, but there are days …

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