Songbirds, crow stories grab attention

Posted Oct. 16, 2009, at 4:54 p.m.

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”

— Desiderius Erasmus

I would add bird seed and squirrel corn to Erasmus’ priorities. From mid-October until pea-planting time, reading books and watching the garden’s birds fill the void created by cold and snow.

Feeders filled with sunflower seeds hang from the porch roof, giving us a bird’s-eye view of chickadees and nuthatches flitting back and forth while blue jays compete with red squirrels at a cob-corn feeder on the porch rail. Berry, the indoor kitten, sits at the windowed door squeaking, tail twitching.

We scatter bird seed on the ground, a mix of millet, milo, and wheat, for a flock of white-throated sparrows, juncos, and the occasional ground dove. Later in the year we will scatter cracked corn for a flock of turkeys that come into the garden from the woods, leaving their three-toed footprints in the deep snow and a scent that drives our dogs, Dixie and Reilly, wild.

We spent Columbus Day tidying up the garden, emptying and scrubbing pots, harvesting the last of the summer squash before composting the vines, shredding fallen birch leaves with the mower and adding the mix of grass clippings and leaf pieces to the compost pile. We left the two patches of volunteer nasturtiums in the vegetable garden to enjoy their colors, bright orange-red blossoms sprawling across one bed, golden flowers across the other, until the first killing freeze takes them away.

We also left the sunflowers and rudbeckias standing in their beds, for as soon as their seeds mature, we will see their tall stems swaying under the weight of pecking goldfinches.

Readers’ crow stories

After my recent column on garden crows, readers sent along their own crow stories. Phyllis Wardwell of Bucksport began her tale with the observation that there are a lot of crows, “miserable noisy things,” around her home.

She goes on to tell about a number of large rocks in a field that she tries to keep mowed, rocks that she marks with used welding rods in case she gets behind in the mowing.

“It worked very well for quite some time,” she wrote, “and then I began to miss a few [rods] and couldn’t figure out where they had gone — until one day I saw a crow pull one up and fly away with it. In a day or two, a total of six rods had flown off. What would a crow need a welding rod for?”

Phyllis, I don’t pretend to know the mind of a crow, but I do know that crows construct the exterior of their deep, round, bowl-shaped nests from sturdy sticks. Perhaps your welding rods were put to good use, at least from the crow’s point of view.

Meanwhile, Sylvia M. Laukshtein of Milbridge sent an e-mail about her talking crow. “My husband and I have a family group of crows that number about [nine] birds. The ‘leader’ greets me every morning when I come out the door with a loud musical ‘Helloooo Maaa.’ As near as we can tell, he or she learned this from our parrot, because our parrot greets us this way every time we go in and out. Our parrot also sits on a sun porch to watch us outside when we work in the gardens. When he wants me to come to him he yells ‘Ma’ with all his strength. Let’s just say his little parrot voice carries a long way.”

Marjorie was skeptical and I would have been had it not been for reading Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s recent book, “Crow Planet,” in which she documents the ability of crows to mimic the human voice. I don’t know, however, if crows will ever tell us what is actually on their minds.

Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to rmanley@shead.org. Include name, address and telephone number.

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