Even though we are now deep in that famous desert dry heat of a Tucson summer, our olive tree is playing host to its own little wilderness of local birds. I admit I helped this along by making an addition to my improvised bird bath: bird feeders.
And now I’m becoming addicted. To bird feeders. Really, to watching birds enjoy the feeders. I started with a ‘kiddie’ model and then every few weeks I’d wander into the Wild Birds store and buy another. So far I have a bigger ‘hopper’ feeder – a mesh cylinder with a platform – a goldfinch feeder and a quail block. And I’m not done yet. I’ve got my eye on a special formula Wild Birds makes called Nuts ’n Bugs, a delicious concoction of ground peanuts and a thousand flies. Yum! It requires a special kind of feeder to spread it on, but promises to attract an even wider variety of birds that prefer insects to seeds. But as it stands, here’s what I’ve observed from my office window in my short time as a backyard ornithologist:
Black oil sunflower seeds in the hopper – This attracts the most common local birds: all kinds of sparrows, purple finches, Gila woodpeckers and the aforementioned bully of the schoolyard, White Winged Doves – who are too big for the feeder, but somehow muscle their way onto the platform and camp out there for as long as they can, guarding the precious store.
I might have to get the kind that have a weight-activated trip mechanism to keep the bigger birds out, but so far there seems to be enough for everybody. Black oil sunflower seeds are smaller and black – unlike the kind we used to get at the 7 Eleven – with thinner shells, and the seed eaters LOVE them.
(Ahem, I did not take the photos on this page – my iPhone just doesn’t cut it for bird photography. So I used some amazing photos credited at the end.)
Thistle seeds in the goldfinch feeder – Oh my stars. I had gotten this on a whim a few months ago. I had just read that there were goldfinches in Tucson and asked Wild Birds if they might be in the neighborhood this time of year. The reply was “They’re always around”. Funny, I’d never even seen one. But the pictures looked cute, so I bought the feeder, a cylinder with staggered perches and holes *underneath* so the little goldfinch has to perch upside down to eat (this discourages the bigger birds from stealing their food). The next day I saw these brilliant black and yellow jewels hanging upside down. They are absolutely beautiful and sing a pretty, trilling sort of song.
Quail block – This one required a little more patience. It is a honkin’ 25-pound block of compressed seed and suet that you leave on the ground. The idea is that quail spend most of their time on the ground and like to feed there. And the block is constructed so that only the strong beak of the quail can peck through and grab the treats. But it turns out every other bird in the vicinity will jackhammer diligently until they get something for their efforts. Nature always finds a way. The block also attracts thrashers, the Gila woodpeckers and some unidentified brown bird I’m still investigating. Which was fine, but I wanted quail! It took a while, but the local quail community finally stumbled upon it, and these are some of my most favorite guests – with their bobbing and waving little apostrophe turbans and their little babies skittering along behind. Oh the chicks! One of the best parts of a Tucson spring (out of many) is watching the new quail families. The babies are teenagers now, still loyally following their parents, apostrophes a’bobbing.
Other guest stars (so far!):
Cardinals – These are stunning, North America’s answer to the parrot. I think we get the same one, who sometimes nibbles at the black oil seeds but mostly is interested in the quail block. So lovely to look at and I still catch my breath when a blur of scarlet streams past us as we sit on the porch.
Ash-throated Flycatchers – Not as showy and locally famous as the Vermilion Flycatcher, but I still love their subtle coloring of pale yellow, rust and gray topped off with an elegant mohawk.
Black-headed Grosbeak – Now *this* was a surprise visitor. I found out they fly through on their migratory path between Mexico and parts up north, so they usually don’t stick around for long. But a couple happened to find the hopper along their travels. Hope I get to see them on their way back south.
Like I said, I have more plans for feeding my little bird friends. But in the meantime, I feel a bit like this girl when I go out to add water to the birdbath and some of them actually stick around.
Check out your local birds and put out some food they like. You never know what you might attract!
Photo credits: White Winged Dove, Henry T. McLin; Lesser Goldfinches SearchNet Media; Gambel Quail, Steve Wall; Northern Cardinal, SearchNet Media; Ash-throated Flycatcher, SearchNet Media; Black-headed Grosbeak, SearchNet Media.