Pecking order in the backyard buffet line
A sharp, harsh, grating, angry cacophony emanated from the back of the house and, for the slightest of moments, I thought that the television had found itself broadcasting a cable news network.
I found myself, meanwhile, wondering how this could be, since
a) Cable news networks (of any propaganda stripe) are verboten within our four walls; and
2) the TV was innocently tuned to Erin and Ben using reclaimed wood to build furniture in a “Home Town” episode I’d only seen two or three times.
The screeching, it turns out, was coming from the backyard.
Specifically, from a crow that had decided to perch itself atop our prepubescent red maple ... bending its highest young branch in doing so.
“How may I help you?” I asked the uninvited guest.
(This not true: I told him to shut its beak and scram.)
Caw caw caw, the crow responded in a tone reminiscent of the impatient driver in your rearview, exasperated you hadn’t turned right on a red light — despite the present of a “No Turn On Red” sign.
“Take it somewhere else,” I suggested to no avail, for the crow was intent on harassing not only the birds of different feathers who had flocked together at the feeders but also the cat, minding its own business under a rose bush.
Reaching my own level of exasperation, I gave myself the green light to take several menacing steps toward the maple — which finally sent the crow on its way, laughing.
The backyard has become a veritable rest stop off the exit ramp of a wide swath of winged flight patterns.
Warblers, jonquils, sparrows, hummingbirds, something with a deep red comb-over that we’ve yet to identify, doves and finches have flitted about the feeder and both the maple and an even younger crepe myrtle.
Sometimes, they’ll announce themselves at the window; at other moments, one of us will announce their arrival as though they were planes landing on the runway.
In those instances, the cat will turn to me and ask, “What are you looking at me for? You’re the one who married her.”
Great excitement was to be found a week or so ago in the safe landing of a pair of callipepla californica, whose flight must have been diverted from Sacramento.
They were an odd-looking pair, stomping about, shooing the doves from their reserved dining table beneath the feeder. We hadn’t spied any quail before this impromptu pitstop, and none since, but their presence inspired the following brief tete-a-tete:
“People actually eat those?” I asked.
“Says the man,” she responded, “who loves lobster.”
Every so often, we’ll see an aquila chrysaetos gliding in parabolas above our yard, hunting for something more sub-sub-sub-substantial than is offered on the menu of our diner.
Law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, the circle of life, and all that ... but reading up on the diet of the golden eagle and realizing that our birdfeeder could one day serve as an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet led to a queasy feeling that we’d be accessories before the fact to an eventual reduction of backyard visitors.
The three of us take far more interest in the lives (and potential deaths) of these birds than they do in ours.
They’ll head for the trees at a sudden movement from inside the house, and a refilling of the thistle sack will engender a Zoom meeting where all those in the vicinity are talking at the same time.
Every once in a while, a skitterish type will thump into a window. Hummingbirds and the occasional Red Combover will flap for all its worth and take a gander at us — either in appreciation of the food or in puzzlement at why one, or two, or three, of us is always staring back at them.
Now that I think of it, maybe that’s what the crow was wondering ... why do we seem so mesmerized with the comings and goings in our backyard.
I know why she is — after all, I’m the one who married her — and, as for the cat, if I had to guess (because, let’s be honest here, no one knows why they do anything), I’d say it was in the throes of a midlife crisis brought on by the realization that there were certain goals in life that are now beyond its grasp.
As for me, I think my fascination can be summed up quite simply.
They arrive, they eat, they chatter among themselves and hang out with whoever has shown up that day and — as long as they avoid the penetrating eyes of the aquila chrysaetos — they head off for who knows where with few, if any, responsibilities.
They don’t know from pandemics.
They don’t know from the striving for racial justice.
They don’t know about mortgages or car repairs, social media or cable propaganda networks.
Hell, they don’t even know they’re birds.
As far as they’re concerned, we’re just these earth-bound creatures stuck in oversized nests. It’s doubtful that birds are so self-conscious about their status in the animal kingdom that they assign us names in Latin.
When I was a kid, a pair of ducks would land in our yard every spring. We named them William and Mary.
We’d throw out scraps of bread (it was the ’60s’ ... who knew?) and they’d just sit and eat and trundle among the sheets on the clothesline, watching as we went about our business.
Then, one spring ... William came back alone.
We never discovered what happened to Mary, but we spent that season feeling sad for William as he carried on what had been their rituals.
I hadn’t considered then that maybe he was feeling sad for us.
Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin, who can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org, shares one trait with the crow ... neither one tweets.