Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fearless Finches

My bird feeders are hubs of activity each winter and into the early days of spring. Every year seems to attract new animals. There are always squirrels who never understand that black oil sunflower seeds are meant for birds, but are nonetheless entertaining to watch. Doves have been frequent visitors the past several seasons and are quite content to peck away at scraps and fallen seeds although I do admit to spreading bucketfuls of food directly on the ground especially for them. This year, finches have come to the feeders in large numbers. At times, as many as forty purple and gold finches have showed up at once to dine on the most tasty treat seed-eaters relish.

I don't know why so many finches suddenly found my feeders, but I have been very grateful to have the opportunity to watch them during this longer than usual winter season. They fly in and out quickly and occupy the branches of a maple tree where the feeders are hung, taking turns swooping onto a feeder or joining the doves in a picnic style meal on the ground.

For a small bird, I have discovered the finch to be fearless when it comes to watching over the food supply. They are not protective or territorial, sharing the harvest with sparrows, juncos, even blue jays. But they tend to give a gentle nudge when it is time for these other species to move on. I've watched blue jays eat while under the watchful eye of several finches until the smaller birds decide the big guys have had enough. A finch or two will fly in and kick the jay out, apparently asking him to kindly find other venues. Even ruffian black birds act intimidated by the presence of a dozen or so finches and have not bothered to stop by my feeders until recent days when the finch population has begun to seek seeds elsewhere.

Why such a small bird, even in large numbers, seems to control the behavior of bigger, more aggressive birds, I do not know. But I have watched the choreography all winter long as each species gets a turn at the feeders while minding the policing action of a few finches who have accepted a role as the ones in charge of keeping the lines moving and making certain everyone gets their share. No more, no less.

As winter's dull plumage gives way to the striking colors of summer, as natural food supplies blossom and mating season begins in earnest, it will be interesting to watch priorities change and see what these little critters do next, if they stick around. Whatever happens next, for me, it's great entertainment.