Just watching the birds in Pennsylvania
The wind was howling and thermometer registered a crisp 8 degrees when I got up just before daybreak. While I love to hunt and fish – trust me, that wasn't my first thought when I contemplated how I might spend my winter day.
In fact, this would be a perfect day to throw a few logs on the fire, relax, have a hot mug of coffee and watch the antics at the assorted bird feeders just outside of my sliding glass doors. I live in the forest, so the usual cast in the birdfeeder play often includes the same actors.
Black-capped chickadees and tufted titmice flit in, grab a sunflower seed, and fly off to a perch to crack the seed open – revealing the heart inside. Downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers visit the suet feeders – pecking away at the calorie-rich treat.
A supporting cast of mourning doves and dark-eyed juncos drop by to clean up the millet, while goldfinches hit the sunflower or the niger seed. Cardinals – the brightly-colored stars of the avian show – always brighten up the deck with their performance.
Comic relief – White-breasted nuthatches, with their upside-down approach, prove that there is food to be found if you are willing to look at the world from a different perspective.
Most of the birds coexist without any drama – that is until the boisterous showoffs arrive – the blue jays. Blue jays, dressed in blue, white and black feathered costumes, are usually heard long before their stage entrance. Other birds move aside when the larger jays fly in. The blue jays eat, and eat, and eat until they are full and fly away. Big birds have big appetites.
Living in the woods, house sparrows, starlings and pigeons never make an appearance – and that is fine with me. If I lived in the city or even suburbia, the cast of actors would likely be different.
The largest birds to drop by never eat a seed. They might be cast as the villains of the birdfeeder show, but they are just another part of nature. I always know when a sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawk is near – the other birds freeze at their posts – hoping not to be seen. On Christmas day 2014, a sharp-shinned hawk made the mistake of trying to fly through one of my windows. Unfortunately for him, it was his last performance.
Cardinals usually reappear for the final act of the play – entering the feeder stage just before the curtain of darkness falls. They quickly replenish their energy reserves before heading to their nighttime roosts.
Hunt and fish when you can, but don't be afraid to just kick back and watch the birds. It can be addictive.