"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, March 4, 2011

Opportunistic Feeders

 Whenever I see trumpeter swans, I always look for their groupies.  Mallards, teals, or Goldeneyes, there's usually an assortment of ducks reaping the rewards that come from hanging around swans.

The swans "swim" in place, their long legs and huge feet raking up bottom vegetation which floats to the surface as feed for their cygnets.  The ducks get right in there with the young swans and nobody seems to mind.

I call those groupie ducks "opportunistic feeders."

Trumpeter swans the their groupie

Two groupies in the photo.

There have been some other opportunistic feeders at my bird feeder lately.  I set out black oil sunflower seeds for the chickadees, nuthatches, pine siskins, and pine grosbeaks.  When it gets really cold--around zero and below--I also smear a wad of peanut butter at the feeder.

I swear the Steller's Jays will come from the next town if they smell peanut butter.  So will the black billed magpies, but they live here in my yard anyway.

Steller's Jay

Raucous and rascally, these beautiful jays will chase every other bird off.

Steller's Jay

Scamps and scalawags, it's a good thing for them they are such a pretty color.

Black-billed Magpie
 If a variety of bird has a sense of humor, it has to be the magpie.  Like jays and ravens, they are members of the crow family, the Corvidae.  They are known for their intelligence.

 My husband and I once found a small magpie.  It was too young to fly, although its siblings were having no trouble.  Because it was sitting alongside the highway in front of our house, I picked it up and took it home.  We kept it inside at night.  During the daytime it was free to come and go.

 It always came back at night.  At this time, Pablo the parrot's cage was in front of a window with a cafe curtain road, and Pablo liked to sit on the rod and look out the window.  The magpie, the little devil, would fly to the sill outside the window and pretend to peck at Pablo, tormenting the parrot until he struck back, banging his beak against the inside glass.

Black-billed magpie

 One rainy day in early fall, our magpie was sitting with several others in a tree next to the house.  Just before dark, I went outside and brought him in, over his strong objections.  I kept him in for several days as the rain continued.

One morning it wasn't raining, and his wild companions came to get him.  I let him out, and that was the last time I saw him.  Except, maybe once or twice after that, a beautiful black magpie would sit in a tree close to me and chatter a while before flying away.

As for the Steller's Jays, my favorite encounter with one went like this:

The sun is doing its best to put me to sleep as I lounge in an Adirondack chair on my deck.   I am attempting to read, but the print keeps slithering into smudges as cotton creeps into my mind.

Suddenly a flash of blue and a cocky swagger jolt me alert.  There he is—pugnacity on display with that black crest—perched on one of the flower boxes that line my deck perimeter.  A Steller’s jay, the scalawag of the bird world, looking to cause trouble, no doubt, after chasing all the songbirds away from the feeder.

What mischief is he up to, I wonder, and foreseeing nemesia uprooted from the flower box, I wave a hand at it to leave.   It does not, of course.  This rascal is bent on destruction.  With a short flight it lands on another chair a dozen feet from me.

He’s up to something.  What can this raucous devil have in mind?          Not quite out of sight behind the barbecue grill,  I see it lower its body onto the edge of the green plastic chair.  I lean forward to see what mischief is occurring.

What I see is this lovely bird on the edge of the chair,  iridescent blue wing and tail feathers spread wide, joining me in an afternoon’s bask in the warm sunshine—utterly charming its way into my heart.


  1. what a sweet story about the little magpie! ;)

  2. I'm glad you're able to be outside relaxing in the sun on your deck. Yay!!

    I love your familiarity with all things related to nature. I adore that you brought the magpie inside at night. Did you put it in a cage? Just curious.

    How delightful to think that he has returned to chatter in your ear!

  3. The magpie is so pretty. I've never seen one.

    Had a run-in once with a Stellar's Jay when we rented a little cabin in the Big Sur of California to hike. (The bird won, totally.) We sat outside to have a drink and eat a few Saltine crackers and cheese. The Jay wanted my crackers. I finally went back in and brought a small paper sack out and rattled it at him every time he started to dive bomb me. But his techniques of intimidation were perfect and he got my crackers. But, smart bird, he wasn't interested in the scotch and water! :)