by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
Spring has officially arrived according to the Gregorian calendar. It was a really long winter for most of us, and the same goes for outdoor creatures too.
If I had a nickel for every blue jay that visited my bird feeder this winter, I could afford to go down south someplace and search for a chuck wills widow. How about your backyard bird feeder? Did you keep it up? With your generosity and a small bit of time - they really needed your help this year.
Even the squirrels needed a handout. They like your old bread, crackers, anything like that, and of course, corn, and if you have any nuts sitting around the house. You can also buy squirrel feed in the stores.
Feed these little furry acrobatic guys and you'll soon have some new friends. Some people say, "No way do I want squirrels around, I don't even want them in my yard!" People think squirrels could get into their attic and different places and cause a lot of trouble. Some call them tree rats and I don't know why, they don't seem to bother anyone.
The only way they will come into your house is if you let them in, so that's your fault. You may have a tiny entrance somewhere around your eves or elsewhere, and that is your responsibility to seal any entrance up. If not, you could have bees and every other creature out there looking to make part of your house theirs, and with spring here, fix it.
Besides my other bird feeders, I have an old pizza pan fastened to my back porch railing so I can peek out at my visitors and get a real close-up look at them through the kitchen window. The other day I found some really outdated small pasta in the cupboard; they were shaped like little SpaghettiOs and thought I'll put them in my special feeder pan and see if anyone liked them. The next morning there was a chipmunk sitting there filling up his pouches. He would run to his home, empty out and come back for another load, and before I knew it they were all gone.
If you are thinking about a backyard feeder and you wonder what kind of seed to buy, it depends a lot on what kind of birds you want to attract. I find black oil sunflower seed is the best and most popular with the winged crowd. More species of birds prefer that. Don't buy the striped sunflower seeds; they are harder to crack for the smaller birds. You see the mixed seeds on sale all the time and that is good too, but they appeal to a smaller assortment of birds. When you get serious, buy both mixed and the black oil seed and mix them, favoring more sunflower. I do mine about 25 percent mix and 75 percent sunflower. It works for me.
As I watch my family of wild birds I am amazed at all the different personalities. The blue jays get under my skin sometimes. They think they own the area, except when the woodpeckers arrive and then nobody gets to eat until they have their fill. The jays are the true rulers of the feed.
Sometimes chickadees get bold and they don't care who is there. They just go in, sometimes a bunch at a time, snatch what they want and scoot away faster than you can say "Jack Robinson." They prefer thistle/niger seed. And you never want to keep this seed too long, because it will dry out and these little birdies will turn their noses up at it. Or is it turn their "beaks" up at it?
Robins are always around us in the wintertime. They are a year 'round bird, you just don't see too many in winter.
They are normally a ground feeder, snatching up worms and other little critters crawling around, or if they can find berries of some sort they'll hang around there. You won't see robins on snow-covered ground, only in uncovered snow patches where they can find food. They certainly have an uncanny way of surviving.
I had a mourning dove with no mate hanging around for weeks eating seeds around the feeder, then one day, all of a sudden, two pair turned up and no single dove. Some people think mourning doves mate for life and if a mate dies, the other will too. That is a myth, according to the bird experts, who note that when half of a couple passes away, the remaining mourning dove will generally move on and seek a "replacement" partner.
Besides the chickadees, goldfinch, sparrows and others that frequent feeders, cardinals hung around quite a bit this year. The male cardinals just seem so bright red this year, or maybe it's in contrast with the snow, but those males seem to be redder than ever. I only saw a couple of grackles snooping around now and then, but I found out they don't like sunflower seed, so they just don't stay around that much.
With the arrival of spring, birds will be more self-sufficient because they can gather seed and fresh buds on their own when they start popping out. If you ever thought of having a pet and don't want the responsibility, there are lots of pets outside. And you don't even have to feed them if you don't want to, or take them to the veterinarian, or buy a license, or any of that other stuff. Besides, it is interesting to watch them, see how one species differs from another, watch their habits, and the arguments between them. My pets are wild and free.
Eagles on our minds; there have been many reports of bald eagles this winter, especially along the shores of Lake Ontario and the lower Niagara River. I received a copy of the Two Row Times, a small weekly newspaper (like our Sentinel) printed on the Canadian Six Nations Reserve and I found it interesting. It was mailed to me by Welby (Oats) Johnson, a resident there. He stops and visits our house frequently and he knows I'm a bald eagle fan.
On Page 5 was a story of an eagle that had been missing for over two weeks from its falconer owner. The eagle, named Huxah, is 20 years old and it was rescued when it was an eaglet from its nest during a forest fire. The parents had escaped and it took members of the Cree Nation of Manitoba to rescue it.
According to the article, the falconer's owner had suffered a stroke. His daughter felt that this caused anxiety for the eagle, and coupled with mating season Huxah "just flew the coop." The eagle was recently spotted on the street in the Village of Oshweken, Ontario, where he stopped to feed on a dead squirrel. Locals reported seeing him all around, including on a lake where ice fishermen were fishing and it swooped down and stole their catch. The eagle is still free and wild today, so the spotting will continue. Huxah means "Little Boy" in the Cree language.