Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Nest Time

Nest Time

This is the time of year when birds get busy. One friend told me about a robin building a nest on her front porch. Another friend described mourning doves at her house. And I’ve seen finches flitting in and out of our forsythia bush with branches in their beaks.

Spring is the ideal time for birds to breed. It provides accommodating weather, seeds from sprouting plants, worms. The trees leaf out to offer hidden nesting places.  

The Swallow here was seen at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. There was a flurry of birds, mating couples flitting back and forth from man-made birdhouses in the water. It seemed frenetic at times but there was no doubt that all that activity had a purpose. Soon there will be eggs and then nestlings and the chain of life will continue.

People make nests, too, at least symbolically, where we can feel comfortable and raise our children. Like the birds, we try to keep our little ones safe and well fed until they are ready to be independent and find their own way in life.

Unfortunately, in today’s difficult world, that isn’t always a given. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could count on our nests to be the places they are meant to be?

An overview of nest info and be sure to click on the nesting birds link: 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Best Nest

The Best Nest

There are lots of signs of Spring; crocuses and daffodils pop up everywhere, bare tree limbs hint at the color of the leaves to come, robins scuttle around lawns looking for the choicest worms. Geese make a U-turn and head back north.

Three years ago I noticed a couple of geese outside of a shopping center. I wondered if they were lost. They seemed to be scouting around looking for something, which I thought might be the rest of their flock. After a few days they had settled onto a garden display and it looked as if they were making a nest. The landscapers delayed planting until the geese left.

Last year they came back and there was no doubt about what they were doing – they were building a nest in the same garden display. A young boy on his way to the Little Gym next door looked as if he wanted to give chase but the nesting female was being guarded by a mate who didn’t look intimidated at all. The boy’s mother hustled him away.

This year there was an official sign to welcome the geese and to keep shoppers away. The geese definitely appeared to be at home.

I wonder why the geese chose such an unlikely place to start their family. Cars are constantly driving close by. People are walking back and forth all day right next to the nest. What am I missing about the appeal of the place?

I discovered that birds often nest in the strangest places. A friend once told me that she had sparrows nesting in a basket at her front entrance. Who’s to say that an unusual spot isn’t the best. Don’t we all live in our own individual spaces? The bird parents take care of their young like any good parents, regardless of the neighborhood. We can be good neighbors to them as we are to the people we live near. 

Facts about geese nesting:

Birds nest in the strangest places: 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Grackles Out for Dinner

Grackles Out for Dinner

A couple of grackles (or is that a grackle couple?) came for dinner the other night. They usually come in groups and stay on the ground, eating the seeds tossed down by the smaller birds at the feeders. But maybe tonight was special.

When the whole group lands, they can inundate the area, taking turns splashing in the birdbath, covering the lawn like a feathery blanket, flitting back and forth from ground to tree. I like to observe their activities. But as much as I observe them, they are quite the observers themselves. When something, whether a person or the neighborhood stray cat or a visiting grandchild comes too near, they will take off and wait until the supposed danger has passed, then return to whatever they were doing. If someone, mostly me, becomes too annoying, the birds will tell me off, squawking loudly from the trees as if they are yelling at me to go away.

They are often confused with crows but there are differences in size and feathers: crows are larger but grackles have the most beautiful iridescent feathers. Crows are corvids while grackles are icterids, relatives but from different sides of the blackbird family.

Whatever their differences, however, they are both smart birds. They have exceptional memories for faces and places. They can make and use tools. They can actually think like humans, according to tests being done in determining their brain capacity.

I remember how the old term “bird brain” was used to criticize someone who didn’t understand something but perhaps it wasn’t an epithet at all. The more we learn about these birds, the more impressive they seem. And that may go for most assumptions that we make. When we look at others in a negative way, are we really only showing our own lack of understanding? Grackles or crows, us or others, life in any form is an intriguing mystery.

The Massachusetts Audubon Society helps us distinguish grackles from crows:

John Marzluff's findings about crow smarts:


Monday, February 29, 2016

A Flock is a Family

A Flock is a Family

I apologize to my all backyard friends for my not having posted for a while. Sometimes life demands our attention in one direction or another, as happened with me. My sister was battling a rare illness that took too many years to diagnose and it finally took its toll. These past several months she was in and out of the hospital, then in a Hospice facility and she recently passed away. As you can imagine, my thoughts were not focused on my blog.

Then I saw this tree. There were so many birds on it. The birds were grackles, a species that travels in flocks, sort of like traveling with a large family. It made me think about the concept of family. There are many individuals connected to each other. Sometimes the connection works, sometimes not but when it does, it is a joy.  Family members can provide support and caring, a sense of belonging and sharing.

Grackles can be aggressive with each other at times, like siblings, but they can also join with other birds like red-winged blackbirds and starlings to increase their family connection. We can choose friends to be part of our family, too. It is as much a concept as a definition. I was lucky to have a great sister as both a relative and a friend.

Info about grackles:

A discussion about what “family” means:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Pumpkin Question

A Pumpkin Question

I put out a pumpkin for Thanksgiving decoration. It remained on our doorstep through Christmas and the beginning of the New Year, a bright entry to our winter home. Today it called to me to cut it open. I usually like to make pumpkin soup. Sometimes I bake pumpkin cookies. I bake the seeds or share them with the birds outside.

But I had lots going on recently and didn’t get to making my favorite pumpkin recipes. I wondered about the lifespan of the pumpkin, if it was still usable. So I checked around. It seems pumpkins last about 8-12 weeks if uncarved, which was within the parameters. They fare best in temperatures about 50-56 degrees; our weather has been unusually warm this year so most of the time it has been in the 40s to mid 50s. The last couple of days, however, it has been hovering around freezing. Was my pumpkin still good to cook with? I wondered.

I cut it open and saw that it must have frozen last night and thawed when the morning warmed up, not the best way to preserve it. I would hate to see it go to waste. Perhaps I’ll boil it up and see if it is still good to use.

Any ideas?

Pumpkin lifespan:

Monday, January 4, 2016

Squirrel Knows

Squirrel Knows

Wow, it’s 2016. Didn’t last year seem to fly by? Time to take stock of things. Not to make resolutions, necessarily, as they rarely last through the year, but to see what is of value in our lives, to appreciate the people we love, and to move in positive directions. Do we respect ourselves? Are there things we’d like to change?

It isn’t necessary to do everything at once; rather let’s be realistic and focus on one idea at a time. We have to focus on the everyday things. This squirrel knows that. It is giving itself a good cleaning. It does its other usual chores as well like going in search of food, digging up nuts and seeds that were buried for the winter, looking for a mate.

Squirrels are inventive creatures, particularly when it comes to food. They can figure out ways to get onto bird feeders. They can sniff out acorns that were planted in the fall. One squirrel, which was being fed with peanuts by a friendly homeowner, took to knocking on the back door when it didn’t see its daily bounty.

I hope that this year is a good one for us all.

Squirrels’ behavior:

A story I wrote for Chicken Soup for the Soul My Resolution: if you haven’t read it yet, here it is:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Coreopsis on the Table

Coreopsis on the Table

The last of the coreopsis flowers graced our table last week. The plants were blooming despite the change in seasons, the erratic temperatures, and their tight quarters in a flowerpot on our patio.

These are hardy plants even though their flowers tend to look delicate. Coreopsis can tolerate a variety of soil conditions and weather. Depending upon their height, they can be used as back borders or edging. Their blossoms, which vary in color, last into the Fall, providing lovely table decorations.

I was impressed by how long the flowers lasted in the vase. They seemed so fragile, yet they stayed full and lively for the whole week. What a vibrant expression of nature in such a compact form. And that got me to thinking of how we often judge people by their outward appearance. Delicate doesn’t necessarily mean weak. It is more important to understand the inner strength of a person than to assume we know all there is to know from a glimpse at a person’s body.

When the coreopsis flowers finally wilted, I said goodbye and thanked them for sharing their perspective with me. We can learn something about the world and ourselves from the most surprising encounters.

An intro to coreopsis:

A look at the beautiful coreopsis varieties: