Column, Looking Back

Backyard entertainment

By Robert Wilson Photography
The colorful plumage of this Baltimore oriole makes it easily recognizable upon return to the area during migration.

By Mary Ellen Shaw

You may have more free time these days and if you are seeking lighthearted entertainment look no farther than your yard!

It’s too nice this time of year to be indoors so pull up an outdoor chair and take a break from your gardening chores.

In my younger days I never understood how my parents could be interested in bird watching. My father, in particular, loved to sit outside and watch their antics. Now I am doing it!

I mentioned in my last column that house wrens had built a nest in one of our birdhouses. This has been an annual occurrence for the last 10 years. They work so hard at perfecting the nest. The males always seem to think that twigs belong in it but as quickly as they put them in the birdhouse, the females toss them out. They prefer grass, feathers, animal hair or anything soft.

My husband, Peter, and I have “ringside seats” for watching the wrens’ activities because they are using the birdhouse that is near where we usually sit. Just recently I could hear tiny chirps coming from inside the house. The time has arrived for heads to start popping out of the entrance as they compete with one another for whatever food their mother brings them. The babies are tiny in size but it still must be very crowded in there. I love it when they break out in a chorus as their mother lands on the perch to feed them. I bet she makes hundreds of trips each day to find food for the little ones.

In another part of our yard I keep seeing robins going in and out of a blue spruce tree. It’s not a tall tree, probably about 10 feet in height. One day when I was mowing I decided to stick my head into the branches to see if there was a nest. I found it and noticed the “back end” of a bird stuck up in the air with no motion occurring. I thought the bird was dead until she or he realized I was there and then the fluttering began. I backed away before I got attacked so I never did find out if there are babies in the nest. I immediately felt a little guilty for invading the privacy of whatever was going on in there. Since then I have minded my own business!

But the nest building activity didn’t end there. Male and female cardinals have been flying in and out of our lilac bush. I learned my lesson with the blue spruce tree incident so I just watch and hope that I will see some little ones leave their nest some day. Once the leaves fall off the bush in October I will find out exactly where the nest was located.

I am looking forward to the hummingbirds who will visit our flower gardens and window boxes more often as summer progresses. So far I have only seen one. They exhibit such grace as they hover to get their nectar from the blossoms.

One of the funniest birds to watch is a junco. They arrive in the fall and leave our yard by May. They hang out under our feeder and eat seeds off the ground that other birds have dropped from above. They often do a little back and forth dance as they check out the available seeds or other food choices offered by nature.

Birds are not our only source of outdoor entertainment. Chipmunks are comedians in their own right! When our pool is closed for the summer and the cover is strapped down the chipmunks scurry across it filling their cheeks with the maple tree “helicopters” that have fallen on it. They quickly take them to their burrows which can be up to 30 feet long. Pockets are located on the sides of the burrow where they stash the food.

So as the summer passes, take some time to observe the birds and critters that are in your own yard. Grab a fold-up lawn chair so you can move it to wherever the entertainment might be occurring. “They” say that the best things in life are free and observing what goes on in your yard is a complimentary treat!

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