May 24, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)

Home Wildlife

Animals are such agreeable friends -they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.

George Eliot, 1857

Last summer, I installed a picture window on the east side of my house. I also built a feeder that holds about a gallon of sunflower seeds. My wife and I can watch a parade of small wildlife at the feeder and at the hummingbird feeder next to it. We also have a birdbath next to the feeder which some birds bathe in and all of the animals drink from. It's more fun than television and much less predictable. The animals (mostly squirrels)(See a squirrel) and birds go through about a pound of sunflower seeds per day. In the summer, I use about a pound of sugar per day to feed the hummingbirds.

The birds and mammals are used to us and seem to know that we, who are behind glass, pose no threat to them. We can recognize a squirrel as a newcomer because it takes the time to look at us. Most critters act as if we weren't there. If I tap on the window, I am still ignored.

Our year-long visitors consist of Anna's hummingbirds, western gray squirrels, an occasional chickaree ( a small red squirrel), chipmunks, Oregon (black headed) juncos, chestnut-backed chickadees and Steller's jays. In the spring we also have Allen's hummingbirds, that will go south in the fall, and Cassin's finches that go elsewhere for the summer and winter. This year, for the first time, we saw a rufous hummingbird. Who knows what the future may bring?

We have been able to consistently identify only two squirrels. One, who we have named Big Dick, has two white spots on his forehead. The other is also a male who seems to have mange. He has lost almost all of his hair, but seems to be growing it back. My wife calls him PMS (Pathetic Mangy Squirrel) and I refer to him simply as Mangy. Aside from his skin condition and a tendency to stop every few minutes to scratch, he seems perfectly healthy and has a good appetite.

The squirrel's ability to leap from tree to tree is amazing. They leap onto branches that I would think couldn't bear their weight. I saw one leap about 12 feet to the ground.

Most of the time, the squirrel that is at the feeder seems to rule the roost and any who challenge it are driven away. Rarely, an interloper challenges the one in possession of the feeder, and wins. If I could identify each individual squirrel, I would know if there is a pecking order. I haven't figured out how to do that yet. There is nothing that I find likable in these squirrels. They are belligerent, greedy and generally nasty to each other. When there is more than one they often fight and chase each other through the trees. This, in contrast to the birds, that get along with each other.

When I was about 13, I found an injured young gray squirrel. I took it home and it became a pet. When I went somewhere, I often took it with me. It would curl up in my jacket pocket. I took it subway riding and sometimes its tail hung out of my pocket. He loved to climb up the curtains. My mother eventually made me turn him loose in order to save her curtains.

The squirrels here show no sign of being tamable. The jays here are very wary of people, in contrast to similar jays at picnic areas, which seem to have little fear of people.

It amazes me that all of the birds and mammals seem to be able to distinguish a sunflower seed that is full from just a shell. On the ground below the feeder, there is a soft carpet of sunflower seed shells that is several inches thick. It will eventually be used as a mulch around our garden plants.

My favorite bird is the chickadee. They and the hummingbirds seem to be the only animal that seems to know that we people pose no threat to them. When we are sitting outside, they have no fear of us, in contrast to the other birds and the squirrels, which leave as soon as we appear.

I suspect that I will never tire of watching animals. I have had a belly-full of television.

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