And let them pass, as they will too soon, with the bean-flowers’ boon, and the “cowbird’s” tune, and May, and June. – Robert Browning, English poet and playwright (1812-1889)
Perhaps no bird species in North America elicits a more emotional response from birders and researchers alike than the brown-headed cowbird. – Migratory Bird Center scientist Chris Tonra
Wilhelmina is taking her usual cat nap in the late afternoon. A bird is singing outside the window. I don’t see him, but I can hear him and so does Wilhelmina. She lazily raises her head for a moment then returns to her nap. Her head lies across her front foot and her chin rests on her tail. Every now and then her ear moves back and forth while her eyes stay closed. She’s far more interested in her nap than the bird outside the window.
With spring came a number of birds to the bird feeders. While the seed eating birds, bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, tufted titmouse, jaybirds, downy woodpecker, and sparrows fed, the mourning doves foraged on the ground for dropped seed. Hummingbirds swarmed their four feeders constantly. Now only a few come sporadically. It’s quite possible they prefer the nectar from blooming flowers, and there are many. As the days grow warmer, I’ll be keeping it all going: weeding, watering, deadheading, fertilizing and protecting. After a few days of heat, I gathered jugs to water the potted plants. There on the dock my new zinnia plant had been snatched out of the pot along with the dirt. I can’t for the life of me figure out why critters do that. What could they possibly be looking for in a clay pot?
I repotted the zinnia. It is likely a squirrel or a raccoon did the dastardly deed. Out came the Havahart trap. I hadn’t trapped anything in a long time so I oiled the moving parts with some kitchen cooking spray and added bait meat from the freezer. The next morning there was the raccoon having enjoyed his bait meat before he entered the relocation program.
As for the other feeders we’ve had an excessive number of cowbirds. Before anyone says anything, I know they are terrible birds. Here’s what I know about cowbirds. They are parasitic and will lay their own eggs in the nests of other birds and often destroy other birds’ nests. By doing so they drastically decrease bird populations. What I didn’t know was how to get them to move along and welcome all the other birds. I didn’t know until I watched a YouTube on Mark’s Backyard Birds.
According to Mark, birds like starlings, grackles and cowbirds will send out scouting birds to find food. Once the scouts find your bird feeders, they check it out and return for the rest of the gang. In our case we may have had 50 birds at times all over the feeders and ground feeding. The cheater birds will descend in the morning and feed all day. Mark suggested putting feeders out around five in the afternoon and take them up about nine at night. I tried it. We had a few cowbirds but not nearly the whole flock. I stopped filling the feeders for two or three days. Afterwards as I filled the feeders, a variety of birds returned, and I have yet to have more than one or two cowbirds. A big thank you to Mark and his backyard.
Shannon Bardwell is a writer living quietly in the Prairie. Email reaches her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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