December 14, 2019
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Birds of a feather can be noisy neighbors on the farm

Bob Duchesne | BDN
Bob Duchesne | BDN
When not pounding on trees, the downy woodpeckers on Rusty Metal Farms beat to their own drums on the metallic satellite dish.

One of the many advantages of living in the country as I do, is the sheer variety of wildlife that I call neighbors.

For a birdwatcher like me, Rusty Metal Farm is paradise with woodland, field and wetland habitats managed to attract and sustain numerous native species. But every so often this bird paradise can be a bit of a curse.

This week, for example. Every morning at around 5 a.m. the resident downy woodpeckers arrive and announce their presence with repeated, horrifically loud banging. All winter he and his buddies had been feasting on the suet I supplied for them. Now that it’s spring, the hearts and minds of the male downies have turned to romance and when it comes to looking for love in the case of woodpeckers, volume matters.

Woodpeckers of both genders bang away on trees, telephone poles and even the sides of wooden homes to get at the tasty insects and grubs they so love to eat.

The males also hammer away to attract a mate, and the louder the hammering, the better his chances.

The downies around my farm have realized they can pump up the volume by bypassing trees and pounding away on the metal satellite dish directly above my bedroom window, thereby amplifying their love ballads like a high schooler in a jacked up car with a massive subwoofer.

I never did like showoffs. Or heavy metal, for that matter.

When it comes to noisy neighbors, there is also the family of ravens who live in a pine tree not far from the house. Ten months out of the year I love having them around. Which is a good thing since they are the most recent residents descended from a line of ravens that have occupied that same tree for close to three decades.

Most of the year I watch them fly — swooping and soaring on the air currents. Excellent mimics, I have heard them make calls imitating everything from the baying of my old hound dog to the wolf-like howls of my sled dogs.

The other day I spotted two flying overhead, one with nesting material clenched in its beak and the other scolding nonstop. I can only imagine he or she was telling its partner that piece of material was just not right, or it was not being transported properly.

But then comes spring, and with it the new generation of ravens.

Not long after the woodpeckers start their morning drumming, the baby ravens are up and screaming. For food? For attention? For the fun of it? I have no idea. It’s like living next to the worst garage band ever with the off key singing of the baby ravens and the sporadic beat of the woodpeckers overhead.

Not every feathered friend on the farm is so noisy. Others like to get my attention in more subtle ways.

As the temperatures warm up, the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds return. And they return right outside my living room window, hovering in mid-air, glaring at me through the glass and demanding to know where the feeder of simple syrup is.

A product of Catholic school, guilt works great on me and as soon as I spot one of the hummers outside, I am up and cooking up a batch of syrup, filling the feeder and hanging it outside for them. And I will continue to do so all summer, until they migrate south in the fall.

That’s about the same time the chickadees show up again, after spending all summer foraging in the wild.

Last fall I was reading and happened to look up and saw a single chickadee perched on the outdoor thermometer on the living room window.

His little head was cocked to one side as he stared at me with huge, round eyes, as if he were saying, “Um, excuse me, but do you think you’d have a moment to get off the couch, hang the feeder and fill it with sunflower seeds?”

Months and hundreds of pounds of black oil sunflower seeds later, chickadees, blue jays and other winter visitors to my ongoing avian eatery have returned to the wild. But I know they will be back in the fall.

It’s one thing I can count on.

Well, that and my 5 a.m. wakeup call courtesy of the woodpecker.

 



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