It must be spring because the Mafia has returned and is terrorizing my neighborhood.
The bird Mafia family, that is. Blackbirds. Their return begins with a pair of noisy adults. These two hell-raisers build a nest every March at the top of a tree that divides my neighbor’s driveway from mine. Every spring these scrappy roustabouts hatch a passel of noisy, undisciplined baby Blackbirds.
This Mob family is wildly dysfunctional. They squabble and squawk and pick fights with each other and with law-abiding birds, chasing them away from my feeder. The Mafia parents are big and black, with long pointy beaks and gaudy iridescent feathers. Their voices are raspy and loud and argumentative. They’re bigger than most of the other birds, but maybe that’s an illusion. They’re so pushy and loud, they just look bigger.
I like most of the birds in my neighborhood. Each species has a personality.
Black-Capped Chickadees are my favorite because they’re so damn fluffy and cute. And -- they LIKE me. They REALLY LIKE me. They all have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD.) Chickadees are flitty, nervous and jumpy. They can’t decide what to do or where to go. They fly to the feeder, land, look around, flit off, then fly back again. They pick one seed from the feeder, swoop away to a nearby branch, crack the seed open, eat it, then swoop back to the feeder. Over and over. Lunch burns up a lot of Chickadee calories.
Northern Cardinals seem to travel in pairs. I usually see the bright red male and the dumpy brown female together. They like to pick up seeds from the ground, but if it’s snowing or cold and they’re really hungry, they will grudgingly belly up to the feeder. I think they’re pretty. Rather regal, royal, dignified. And apparently devoted to each other.
Robins are the Mr. and Ms. Congenialities of my garden bird population. They’re cheerful. They stand up straight and tall. They’re alert. They have a lilting early morning song that I like to wake up to. They’re also rather tame. While I’m sitting on my patio, a trusting robin will practically trip over my outstretched foot as he/she searches for a juicy worm or a fat bug. When I’m on my hands and knees, digging in my garden, a single robin will wait patiently a short distance away. When I dig up a fat earthworm, I toss it to him and he usually goes for it. He considers me his supplier.
Hummingbirds. I love these little guys. They're so small, they’re often mistaken for insects. Last year there must have been a nest nearby because I saw quite a few. They’re also shiny and iridescent. My red feeder attracts Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. They hover carefully, moving forward and back and side to side as they check out the feeder's attractiveness before they try a sip of the sugary water. If it tastes good, they settle down for a drink. They have soft voices and are polite and careful. If I sit very, very still, they’ll hover within six feet of my chair.
Red-Winged Blackbirds are super diligent about keeping their babies safe. I don’t see too many in my yard. They like to live near water holes on golf courses, and I spend a lot of time hanging out at water holes. I love the sounds they make, kind of shimmery and wavy. They sound like a hot summer day. But Red-Winged parents will dive-bomb anybody who dares come close to their nest. They are protective and persistent. I’ve had my hair ruffled a few times while fishing a muddy golf ball out of the shallows.
Now that spring has arrived, I hear woodpeckers – pecking wood -- (duh) -- but I only actually see them in the winter and then only if I put out one of those suet feeders.
I have diverse bird population in my yard. I see so many sparrow variations I gave up on identifying them. A pair of scrappy (but strikingly beautiful) Blue Jays had a nest nearby last year. In winter I see fluffy little snow buntings on the ground around my feeder. They’re cute, like Chickadees. Some nuthatches often turn upside down and scoot up and down nearby tree trunks. I hear Wrens’ lyrical songs. I see lots of goldfinches, which sometimes are not gold but other times are a brilliant yellow -- I must look up why that is. And an unidentified bird digs the ants out of cracks in my driveway with his long pointed bill. I wish I knew his name.
I’ve tried to lure Orioles by putting out those special feeders stocked with orange slices and grape jelly, but I haven’t been successful. One might fly over and sample the fare, but usually the ants and the sparrows get to it first.
Of all the birds in my yard, Chickadees are the most likely to eat out of my hand. I have to be extremely patient, but they eventually are so curious about what the heck might be in my outstretched hand, they’ll chance it. One Chickadee will make six or seven practice flybys toward my open palm. It looks like he’s going to land on the fleshy part of my thumb, but – flit – flit -- he makes a quick right turn and swoops to a nearby branch. By the time my arm is tired and I’m about to give up, the bravest Chickadee -- the leader of the flock – lands tentatively on my thumb and helps himself to one seed. Flits away. Cracks it. Eats it. Comes back. By then, the others have decided to trust me, too. Those little Chickadee feet are so tiny and delicate. They tickle.
The Mafia, however, is doing its best to ruin the neighborhood. The newly arrived yellow-eyed Blackbird bullies, with their flashy feathered heads and their hit-man instincts and their reform-school-bound offspring have moved in.