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30 January 2005 — Peanut Battle

There was a peanut battle outside our house yesterday. I took photos. (Some of these are blurry, or underexposed, or mangled by iPhoto. I apologize; I'm learning a new camera. Also, on my monitor at work, some of these photos are very, very dark. )

Every morning she's home, Kris feeds the birds. She fills the seed feeder with millet and thistle. She puts peanuts and dried corn-on-the-cob in the squirrel feeder which hangs from the walnut tree. She places more peanuts in the feeder outside the kitchen window, along with a pile of birdseed and a new block of suet (if necessary).

[Photo: The scrub jays love the peanuts]

We're not sure how the birds know to look for new food, but they do. Especially on Sunday mornings. The scrub jays are usually first to find the food, and they're the noisiest about defending it. They love the peanuts. So do the other birds.

In fact, for a short time, our yard becomes the site of a great Peanut Battle.

We're still puzzling out the rules to this war. Only one jay can be on a feeder at a time. If another jay swoops in before the first is finished, the newcomer is sent flying with a tremendous squawking chatter. However, if the jay on the feeder takes too long to choose a peanut (are some better than others?), a new jay can chase him off.

If the starling appears, the jays retreat. They're scared of her. But the starling doesn't really eat much; she simply likes to sit at the feeder, glowering at the other birds, challenging them to fight.

L: A jay lands at the feeder, R: The mean ol' starling
 
 
L: The stupid band-tailed dove, R: The flickers perform their mating dance

A couple of band-tailed doves live nearby. They'd like to eat, too, but they can't seem to figure out how. They see the other birds flying to the feeder, so they come over to join them, but they're too stupid (and perhaps too big) to land inside where the food is. They land on the roof of the feeder and pace back-and-forth, staring stupidly at all the jays that have peanuts in their mouths.

While the big birds eat, the little birds wait their turn. Even the flickers — which are at least the same size as the jays and have deadly-looking bills — yield. They're too polite. And besides, yesterday the pair that lives in our trees seemed more interested in each other than in food. They fluttered around the lawn, nodding and bobbing, circling each other. We think they're preparing to mate.

[Photo: Jay getting a peanut]

It's important to note that the jays don't actually eat the peanuts. They take the peanuts and they hide them in the yard. They tuck them in corners of the flower bed. They stick them in the middle of the grass. They cover them with leaves. The jays think they're planning ahead, storing nuts for later, but they're really just extending the Peanut Battle.

When the feeding begins, the crows swoop in. They perch on the wires and in the branches of the walnut. They watch the jays tuck their precious peanuts away. When all of the work is done, the crows swoop down to undo it.

L: The crows work methodically in teams, R: They often find peanuts beneath leaves
 

It's fascinating to watch the crows at work. They cluster in twos and threes, pacing the grass systematically. They snatch up leaves and cast them aside. They check the dirt. They find many peanuts, and they eat them instead of saving them. (In the fall, the crows gather walnuts. To open them, they fly above the street and drop the nuts over and over and over until the nuts crack.)

The picture below may not look like much, but that's simply because I don't have a long enough lens to show all the detail:

[Photo: a complex tableaux in which the Peanut Battle rages

That, my friends, is the Peanut Battle raging in full-force. In the left of the frame is a crow, picking through grass and leaves, searching for hidden loot. Up and to the right, you can see Filbert, the squirrel. The squirrels love the peanuts, too. (They dominate the feeder in the walnut tree; the jays yield to their mammalian nature, I guess.) Sunday morning, Filbert was scurrying around this little patch of ground looking for peanuts. He chased off all interlopers: the flickers, the jays, and and the starling. If you stare hard, you can almost discern the jay beneath the rhododendron, to the right of the squirrel. She's hiding a nut. Clinging to the dogwood at the right of the frame is one of the flickers (the male, I think). He uses his woodpecker grip to hang from the tree while he waits for a spot at the feeder.

There are other birds around, too, of course, all playing some role in the Peanut Battle:

[photo: Steller's Jay] [photo: Northern Flicker [photo: common robin [photo: a Grosbeak?

The leftmost bird above is a Steller's Jay. She likes to eat from the feeder at the walnut tree. She's not as brazen as the common jays, and is much more skittish around humans. And cats. The next photo is another (horrible) photo of the flicker. We like our flickers quite a bit, and I look forward to getting some good shots of them eventually. The third photo is of one of the two birdbaths. These get constant use during a Peanut Battle, though we're not sure why. In this case, the robin has no hope of winning a peanut from the jays, so he's contenting himself with a five-minute bath.

The final picture above shows a mystery bird. This bird has made a couple of appearances lately, but we can't get close enough to it to really note its markings. It seems to have a blood-red head. Its wings are dark, with a long white stripe. We can't recall what its chest looks like. I say this bird is a pine grosbeak, but Kris is unconvinced. (Maybe it's this house finch we once saw at Jeremy and Jennifer's?)

We enjoy birdwatching. It's one of the highlights of our new house. On Sunday mornings we stand in the kitchen window for ten minutes, or twenty, or thirty, and we watch the Peanut Battle unfold.

(We're not the only family members who like the birds, either.)


Comments
On 31 January 2005 (07:39 AM), al said:

Nice details and photos. My neighbor hand feeds peanuts to the scrubs, so I'm going to try it soon. They seem a little skittery, but he claims they'll take the p-nuts right from his hand. How big is the mystery bird? It almost looks like a pileated . . .


On 31 January 2005 (08:04 AM), J.D. said:

That's amazing that your neighbor can feed the jays right from his hand.

Kris and both estimate that the mystery bird is about the same size (or perhaps a little smaller) than a jay. I've only seen it once, and that was from far away (as you can tell from the photo). As I say, it seemed to have a blood-red hood that didn't end evenly around its neck. Its wings were dark with a white stripe. (Though from the photo, it seems almost as if perhaps it has a white breast.)

According to Sibley: a jay is about 11.5 inches long, a grosbeak is 9 inches long, and a pileated woodpecker is 16.5 inches long. We did see a pileated woodpecker once last fall, and this isn't it. The head is definitely different.


On 31 January 2005 (08:17 AM), Tiffany said:

This is only a little related to your bird watching story.
This weekend we went to Petsmart and were amazed by one lady that brought in her 5 cats to push around in the cart! I mean what cats like to travel in the car?
But far cuter, was a second lady that parked her cat, in a cart, right next to the bird cages. The cat was really enjoying the show from only a foot away.


On 31 January 2005 (08:54 AM), Tammy said:

Jd, we have these too and I really think they are a red breasted sapsucker; a kind of wood pecker. Read this and see: http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i4030id.html


On 31 January 2005 (10:13 AM), J.D. said:

Ding ding ding ding!

Tammy is absolutely correct. I'm not sure how I missed this in Sibley, but the mystery bird is a red-breasted sapsucker. The drawing in the book looks exactly like the bird I saw. (And it's 8.5" long, which seems exactly right.)

Based on the drawings, I would guess that the specimen in question is young male adult southern red-breasted sapsucker. (The red on the northern variety extends to its chest, whereas the red on this ends around its neck.)


On 31 January 2005 (10:21 AM), Lynn said:

I loved this entry. My cat and I both love our birds and squirrels.

In the magazine Birds and Blooms they sell a cardboard person to be set in a chair, it's hand extended, to get the birds used to feeding from it. Then you can just move the cardboard person and take its place, or so the theory goes.

Where do you guys purchase your birdseed, peanuts and suet? You mentioned once that you can find suet on sale for 50 cents each - cheapest I've found is about 80 cents.


On 31 January 2005 (10:39 AM), Kris said:

Lynn--

Coastal Farm store occasionally has a case of 12 suet blocks on sale for $5.99. We stocked up and bought 2 cases last time. Good thing we have a cellar!

Thanks for the bird ID help, Tammy!


On 31 January 2005 (10:56 AM), tammy said:

Happy to be of assistance, dear cousins.


On 31 January 2005 (02:20 PM), Amanda said:

Great entry! Now I think I will just have to buy some sort of bird feeder. In Florida it's not nearly as exciting as in Oregon, apparently. I might see some Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, Crows and the occasional Cardinal (or usually two).


On 31 January 2005 (03:39 PM), John said:

Great photos. The squirrel vs. bird battles continue at our place. On Sunday, *everyone* was out in the yard battling for seed. Do you ever get the flock of those small finch-like birds? They descend on the ground eating seed. Also, been meaning to ask you: what's up with the Save Kellog Lake from the Transit Center signs near River Road? Leftovers from last November?


On this day at foldedspace.org

2007Minor Miracles   In which I mow the lawn in January; Toto and Meatball sit side-by-side and purr; I edit video instead of doing the things that I ought to do.