Every morning, my little gray kitty reminds me to turn on the entertainment. She tells me that her friends are waiting for her — or rather for me. I need to pull the curtain, open the door and feed the birds.
It's not just entertaining for her, but enjoyable for me, because now the birds are trained. They have come to expect this morning ritual. They know me, know my whistle; they even know when I pass in front of the windows.
I have the ultimate cat-ter-tainment in the form of birds feeding safely away from my enthralled cat, who is strictly indoors.
The crazy thing is, that it doesn't matter if they are birds that live here year-round, like the northern cardinals, or the Carolina chickadees, or birds who migrate back and forth, like the gray catbird or even the white-throated sparrows who winter here. They all figure it out. They learn quickly. It only takes a couple of times of repeated notes and a toss of seed out in the yard for them to understand.
There is no way for me to know exactly what the level of comprehension is, of course, but in my own little experiment, I refrained from whistling sometimes to see if they know that the food is coming from me.
They clearly know human lady equals yummy morsels of food because I have opened the door when there wasn't a bird in sight and they have flushed from the underbrush and nearby canopies to swoop down and wait.
The easy ones to prove my theory with blue jays. I can see their shadows passing on the ground as they move from tree to tree to grab a strategic spot overhead. Once I throw down peanuts in the shell, several swoop down to claim their prizes. They are smooth and quick, except when they stop to drop one and pick up another they think is better.
Birds weigh seeds to feel for moisture and fat content. The heavier the seed, the more nutritious for them and it makes it worth their time and energy to fly away with it. That is why you see some birds scatter seed and it is also why it's a good idea for the birds and your wallet to buy quality food for your feeders so as not to have waste and to get a lot of return visitors.
Recently I presented to a group of gardeners and was asked by one person why the birds weren't at her feeder. It turned out she was using seed purchased five months before and she had the same seed in her feeder for about three months. She was surprised no one had touched it.
When you see birds foraging and eating things in the wild, it's hard to think that they might turn their beaks up to something you bought, but as another person summed it up: "Just because you leave bread on the counter, it doesn't mean someone will eat it after a week." It's true, seed goes stale and it's not all the same.
Some folks stop feeding in the summer because they think there is enough natural food. A poster at Wild Birds Unlimited in Williamsburg says, "Birds Don't Take Spring or Summer Breaks."
Birds depend on reliable resources for food, from the berries in your yard, to your full feeders and word spreads as birds watch the behavior of others. If your favorite lunch spot closed, you'd be scrambling to find another spot and might even change where you hang out. Birds do this, too, as they are busy feeding babies, replenishing energy from nesting, and preparing for migration.
Many locally owned businesses on the Peninsula offer up quality choices to please your feathered friends. From Jamestown Feed & Seed in Williamsburg, to Wild Wings Nature Store in Newport News, the Peninsula Ace Hardware stores in Hampton, Newport News and Williamsburg, and the Wild Birds Unlimited locations in Yorktown and Williamsburg, you're bound to find everything from seed blends to suet nuggets and great feeders.
The brown thrashers are bringing their babies near the back door looking for peanuts to feed them. It's nice to know that I am helping and interesting to think that I have actually trained them. Or maybe they've trained me.
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