watching, waiting

red squirrel on my feeder

I have a lot of birdfeeders, maybe too many. We all know that the cat to person ratio you are allowed is N+1 (you can have one more cat than person in your house otherwise you risk veering into Crazy Cat Person territory; not judging, this is just math). I’m not sure what the birdfeeder ratio is but I think I’ve passed it. I have a few hanging “squirrel proof” feeders, a suet feeder, and two window feeders. All of these are visible from my office. There is another feeder hanging off my porch and a finch feeder that no one seems to like. All of these are full of prime sunflower seeds because I am a lady with a job and the birds all seem to hate millet anyhow.

In fact I was concerned that they might hate ME because they were scarce a lot of last year. I did the feederwatch so I could see my numbers dwindling. I chalk this up to some ancient birdseed Ronni gave me, an owl that was lurking, and hey it was pretty cold out. The leaves suddenly came out on to the trees this week. Which means birdwatching has taken a few sudden turns as well.

1. I can’t see all the birds all the time, and they can sort of sneak up on the birdfeeders, and lurk. So I see more birds because there are more around, but I also can hear birds I haven’t even seen yet. The trees are ripe with bird possibilities.

2. Everyone is starving, you’d think. This momma red squirrel is going after my feeders like it’s an Olympic sport. She sits in the windowsill and chitters at me. I think I’ve found the right weird set of noises to respond with because I can make her growl when she’s in a nearby tree. I think we have a relationship. She probably thinks I am coming to take her babies.

3. All new birds have shown up this week that I haven’t seen all winter. Aside from the usual suspects–chickadees, nuthatches (both kinds), goldfinches, juncos, titmice, woodpeckers and and cardinals–this week has also delivered rose-breasted grosbeaks, blue jays, purple finches, house finches, and starlings. And they’re all sort of chummy with each other, spending more time hanging out rather than just grabbing seeds and heading back into the trees.

Watching the birds for me is calming. Even the squirrel’s frantic machinations are calming. They don’t know who is president. They have some fairly simple concerns. They make nice noises and are pretty. They’re a reminder that the natural world is still somewhat functional.

finch on the feeder


So I’ve been reading this great book I got for my birthday or possibly for holidaytime called Naturally Curious. It’s written by a Vermonter lady and it’s full of all this great trivia about local flora and fauna, with photos! It’s arranged by month so you can read it and see what’s going on in the natural world at any given point in time. And this month I learned a new word–I love learning new words–which is subnivean. Some animals hibernate for the winter, but some merely burrow. Mice and voles, among other animals, spend a lot of time under the snow but above the ground, scooting around and doing stuff. When the snow starts to melt, you can sometimes see their little tunnels. This is especially true if you happen to have a birdfeeder. I was all interested in this, Gooling to see if I could find some subnivean photography (upon cursory glance, no, but I will keep poking) and then I walked outside with my squinty “What’s that big yellow ball in the sky?” Mister Peepers look and noticed that I had some subniveal tunnels right at my front door. The photo is not much to look at, but it must have been something I’ve seen in the ground hundreds of times and just didn’t know what I was looking at. Little fuzzy animals, burrowing in the snow, secretly eating the sunflower seeds that fell from my feeder. Another winter mystery uncovered. And one more sign of eventual spring.