Watch Your Back . . . Or Not

I have observed life and sometimes death around the bird feeders in our back yard.  I have seen how different birds have different ways of coping with the threats they face.  I will use three examples.

The Goldfinch is an exceedingly cautious bird.  Those who come to our thistle feeders have a predictable habit of turning to look behind them.  The timing seems to be in their nature, because all Goldfinches do this just alike.  Seed . . . seed . . . look around . . . seed . . ..  And so it goes, and so it goes.  The Goldfinches obviously do not wish to become casualties.  I wonder if they are nervous and fearful, or if this is just a monotonous habit.

I have observed through my binoculars (or long ago my rifle scope, sorry) the cautious behavior of groundhogs.  Like Goldfinches, they also have a predictable pattern.  Their routine is head down and graze . . . sit up and look north . . . head down and graze . . . . sit up and look east . . . head down and graze, etc.  They will sit up and look for trouble four times, facing four directions, and then repeat on and on.  Also they will always keep track of the direction to their nearest groundhog hole.  When startled, they know exactly which direction to run.

Another bird does it differently, and that is the Chickadee.  The Chickadee is also a very cautious bird, but the strategy is totally different.  The Chickadee sits in a safe tree nearby, picks a good time when the coast is clear, swoops in to the feeder and immediately grabs a seed, then gets the hell out.  The Chickadee takes his prize to the shelter of a well-leaved tree, sits on a sheltered limb, and eats it there.  If all went well the bird will return again and again, but always making and entire round trip for one tiny seed.

You wonder how great is the threat to birds.  We know there are cats around.  And sometimes raccoons come for food, which an unsuspecting bird might become.  And there are snakes, and there are the predator birds we call raptors.  I am not sure what else.  It appears, though, that bright as their colors may be and sweetly though they may sing, life is dangerous for the birds and caution is needed.

But the Grackles don't seem to believe that this applies to them.  The Grackles just swoop in like they own the place, take all they want, stay as long as they please, and never look over their shoulders.  Maybe nothing would want to eat a Grackle?

Wrong.  We were sitting on the deck one afternoon.  Out of the sky fell a hawk who smacked a Grackle dead in one stroke and only a puff of black feathers left behind.

I guess no matter how you choose to face it, there are no guarantees.

1 thought on “Watch Your Back . . . Or Not”

  1.      I also have observed this behavior in Grackels many times.  After watching them turn one of our feeders into their exclusive playground just today, using their typical "strength in numbers" strategy, I found that a well placed BB into one of them tipped the scales a little which allowed Cardinals, Chickadees, Wrens, Titmice among others to feed.  The Grackel, after hopping to a nearby brushpile under the watchful eye of two cats, eventually recovered and flew away.  Did he get the message?  Maybe.  Will the others be back?  Probably.  Did I win the rights for  the other birds to feed without fear?  Temporarily, I simply made a statement and I'm OK with that.

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