For the Birds (#356)

Birds flock to my yard. I don’t put out feeders, but fountain brings in birds by the dozens in dry SoCal (also skunks, which is another, stinkier post). Andy’s insect-attracting compost pile attracts the black Phoebe fly catcher.

Small bird with bright orange chest
Allen’s Hummingbird, photographer Dean LaTray, Cornell Macaulay Library

The rufous hummingbirds and Allen’s hummingbirds dogfight over orange blossoms. Mocking birds have claimed the neighbor’s shrubbery and defend it against all comers—including hawks.

Bright yellowish orange bird with black wing
Fred Forssell, Macaulay Library

My personal favorite is the hooded oriole. He’s the most colorful bird, sporting bright orangish-yellow plummage. He arrives in late March, signaling that The Worst Month is almost over. The male hooded oriole fusses in the fountain before preening relentlessly for the less colorful female orioles. The females are much harder to spot, being the perfect shades of green and yellow for blending in with foliage. They also do far less preening and far more foraging for insects in trees and my rose bushes.

Recently, though, I caught the elusive female oriole on camera. She spent days ripping at the tissue box on the patio—either nest-building or auditioning for a Kleenex commercial. I’m dubious about the tensile strength of tissues, but she was determined. The orioles nest in very, very tall palm trees across the street. Fingers crossed the nest holds this year. (I’m all out of Kleenex, orioles. Don’t make me cry over your downed nest.)

Finch at a fountain, courtesy of a neighbor mom friend with a good camera.

Of all the birds, finches are the most numerous—and problematic. Every year there’s at least one pair determined to nest in my outdoor hanging baskets. When we first moved in, they successfully raised all their fledglings (and I cleaned a lot of poop of the patio). But once Baby D was a toddler, we went in and out and played in the yard so much the next finch parents abandoned their nest. Once it was clear the finches were never coming back, I took the nest and eggs to show Baby D’s preschool class. The kids were awed. I was sad.

After that, I started running off the finches as soon I spotted them in the baskets. Those finches were tenacious and sneaky. More than once, they managed to frame (with twigs) and drywall (with dog fur) while I was out on the morning walk.

That’s when I brought out the big guns: Boss Cat. The finches invariably fled to as I carried her outside. Raising Boss Cat over my head, (her Lion King moment!) I’d let her paw at the basket and rub her jaw against it. Then I’d yell, “Now do you see? This NOT a safe place!”

Sometimes, I’d throw in a song: “It’s the circle of life/ And she’ll eat you all/ Rip off your head/ Make sure your babies are all dead…”

I don’t know if it was the macabre lyrics or my singing voice, but Boss Cat and I successfully deterred basket nest building for years.

One of us was happy about this.

Eventually the wicker baskets fell apart. I replaced them with wrought iron baskets lined with coconut matting. The finches left them alone, allowing to freesia bloom in the spring, and marigolds to bloom in the fall. In the shadiest areas, the fuchsia geraniums bloomed year-round.

Until the scrub jays discovered them. Apparently coconut matting is even better than dog fur for avian drywalling. Those scrub jays tore out matting out by the handful, then flew off with it to their unknown nesting site. When I brought out Boss, they merely retreated to the telephone wire. And when I sang? They squawked back at me.

Blue and white bird on a post.
Marauding Scrub Jay, courtesy of mom friend

Like they were laughing.

As soon as I went in, those jays resumed ripping at the basket. I took my laptop outside and set up a chair under one of the baskets because I’m ornery like that.

The scrub jays went for the other basket. I moved my chair in between the baskets. The scrub jays disappeared. I was victorious.

Or so I thought.

Only later did I discover the holes in the coconut matting of front porch geranium.

Marauded matting!

I had to buy three new sheets of coconut matting before scrub jay nesting season was over.

This year, the scrub jays ripped out so much matting in just one morning that potting soil covered the patio and dog bed.

I took down the mauled baskets, telling myself they were rusting anyway. I transplanted the surviving flowers into my front garden.

And then I tossed the remnants of the coconut matting into the compost pile, yelling, “Fine! Have at it!”

The scrub jays were victorious.

Or so they thought.

I still have one hanging basket with pristine coconut matting on the front porch. The scrub jays, busy savaging the sacrificial matting in the compost, never touched the last basket.

Probably they’re saving it for next year.

Bright fuchsia geranium in a hanging basket of wrought iron.