When it comes to birds in my garden, we have a love/hate relationship. Mind you, I think birds are lovely to look at, and many sing a beautiful song. But when it comes to them eating my berries and greens, I'm not quite as charitable.
To begin on a positive note, many birds are great insect eaters. Among the best are chickadees, barn swallows, robins and nuthatches. Each of these birds can eat as many as a thousand insects in one day, and for that I applaud them. I won't even object when the robins snitch a bite or two of ripening strawberries, as they are more or less earning their pay.
So if you see the birds I've mentioned in your yard, you will probably have fewer insects. If you want to let them know how grateful you are, provide water — perhaps in the form of a birdbath. Remember to keep it fresh; many species even appreciate running water or a gentle spray from a fountain.
So far, so good. But I think back to a property I had that was visited regularly by purple finches. Despite the name, purple finches aren't purple at all, but instead look like they've been dipped in raspberry juice. If you are from the East, you may think that finches are yellow or gold or perhaps even greenish. But that's not the only species we have on the West Coast. I don't pretend to be a bird expert, but I've learned that these little fellows vary a lot across the country.
The purple finches we have here are seed eaters but they also love greens. My neighbors had bird feeders and attracted lots of purple finches. After eating their fill of seeds, they would visit the "salad bar" in my garden. They could — and did — skeletonize leaves of chard and lettuce, leaving only the veins or ribs. I became a true fan of bird netting.
Birds can have positive traits besides helping us in the garden, of course. Hummingbirds give me a thrill when I see and hear them. The song of the robin or meadowlark is welcome on summer mornings. Owls, woodpeckers, doves — the world would be so quiet without them. Even raucous crows alert us to approaching hawks.
And we can't forget the entertainment factor. A pair of Western scrub jays has adopted our yard, partly, I suspect, because we have blueberries, raspberries and boysenberries. Scrub jays are very smart, with amazing memories. They are able to remember where they stashed more than 200 pieces of food. Additionally, they watch where other birds store their food and are not above stealing it.
They are also mischievous, and that's where the entertainment enters the picture. The male jay in our yard seems to especially enjoy tormenting a cat. A week or so ago, I noticed the cat hiding in some ferns as the jay squawked from a nearby dogwood tree. The cat did not move. The jay descended the tree, limb by limb, all the while being very noisy. No reaction. Finally, he jumped onto the flagstone path, hopping around enticingly. The cat gathered his muscles, ready to spring. But at that moment, of course, the jay quickly flew back to the top of the dogwood, ready to repeat the scenario. Or perhaps he'll use another caper from his bag of tricks to entertain us.
Coming up: From 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, July 8, Pam Rouhier from the Grange Co-op will teach a class on low-maintenance lawns.
From 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, July 20, Bernie Hartman will discuss honeybees. An expert on the subject, Hartman will focus on colony collapse disorder and other causes of the disappearance of honeybees.
Both classes will be held at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. Cost for each class is $5. Call 541-776-7371 for information.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.