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.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

30 thoughts on “For the Birds (#356)”

  1. Birds are tenacious! I got the robins to move but there are two other nests within 15′ of my back door. One is in the new maple tree and the other in the understructure of the deck where I didn’t see it until it had babies. Awww. We don’t go there much so they are safe. Maybe not from the neighbor’s cats but from us.

            1. That’s true. When Boss Cat is inside she chitters at the crows, but if she sneaks outside and hides under the fountain, I don’t hear her at all. What I do hear is the birds in the yard giving a very distinctive “cat danger!” chirp. And then I have to break out the chicken to lure her back in.

  2. Birds win. At least that’s my experience. I do like your one flower basket with the pristine coconut matting and hope that it remains unbothered… but my money’s on the birds.

  3. You have some beautiful birds down there. I love that scrub jay and the hooded oriole. Our area isn’t known for colorful birds. The stellar jay is a big beautiful bright blue, but they’re always rushing off somewhere high in the trees. As far as I can tell, the small birds that hang around my patio are cute but not colorful.

    How nice of your neighbor to share her photos!

    1. The Stellar Jay is pretty. I miss the crested birds I grew up with in the east. My neighbor’s husband recently put in a fountain and she suddenly has a ton of birds in her yard. For some reason, she gets the Bullock’s orioles, whereas I get the hooded orioles. I am especially envious of the owls in her gazebo!

  4. Maybe every year you ‘just’ need to put a large amount of sacrificial coconut matting on your compost pile as an offering to appease these greedy winged gods – and they’ll leave your hanging baskets untouched?

    You do have a variety of beautiful birds in your garden!

    1. Yep! I’ve seen some videos of folks hanging out metal suet feeders stuffed with pet fur, so maybe I will hang that off one hook instead of a plant. And stuff it with coconut matting and pet fur.

  5. I’m envious of all your bird life (even the thieving jays)! The only bad thing about my current house is we don’t have a garden, and hence very few birds. Enjoy.

    1. Yes, the yard was a lifesaver during the pandemic, especially with such a small house. Maybe you can find a container or two and set up some potted plants for your deck? (I seem to recall you have a deck?)

  6. We were thrilled to see our first oriole last week. I’ve heard from two different people that they love grape jelly. Have you tried this? Can you confirm?

    1. I haven’t tried it–because of various salmonella and other communicable avian disease outbreaks, I don’t do feeders (also because I guess our yard is attractive enough on its own). But the fancy neighbors in Luanda Bay rave about it on Nextdoor. As soon as someone sees an oriole, they all start putting it out.

  7. I love a bit of garden wildlife, but having neighbouring cats & dogs means we don’t see anything other than the most determined little wrens in our hedges. My mother had a competitive bird feeding habit and has always been more concerned about them than her children (I’d say I jest, but you know I mean it). That said, she is absolutely loving the amazing range of birds in the US now she lives with my sister – so I smile at the joint enthusiasm and wonder why I didn’t persuade her to move earlier! 😀

    PS: Nice work with Boss Cat. You know it’s going to take me a while to eliminate the image of you rubbing her on your hanging baskets, don’t you?

    1. So your mom is literally “for the birds?” But how hard, to grow up watching love lavished on something/ someone else. That’s the worst, as a child: knowing a parent is capable of adoring and caring for a creature that isn’t you. It’s more painful than having a parent incapable of showing affection to anyone (at least in my book).

      I actually just held Boss up to the basket and she would do the cat thing where she’d rub the scent glands in her chin on everything she could reach.

      1. Yes, it is hard having that realisation, but fortunately it came once I was old and wise enough to deal with it – even if not be hurt by it. Luckily, I also have siblings who I’m close to, and a father we all *knew* loved us.

        What a little star that Boss Cat is 🙂

  8. You really have got quite a bit of bird action there in your backyard. Or front yard. All round. It’s great that the singing deterred the finches but sadly not the jays. The jays sounded like the smarter ones but certainly that makes it all the more annoying.

    You got some really nice looking birds there. Can’t say the same about mine all the time. I live in an apartment that isn’t that high up and get birds on the balcony all the time, every single day all year round. Pretty much every day there are pigeons coming by for a sit, sometimes mynahs, every now and then a massive big black crow. It is annoying to clean up after them. Sometimes they try to fly through my window, thinking it’s a straight road through the clear glass. Sometimes some of them get very bold, swoop on to the balcony and strut around like catwalk models on a runway. There was one time where one of the birds had their little strut on the balcony, then they struggled to fly back up to the ledge to fly off. It probably had some issue with their wing but glad they eventually took off.

    1. We do have a surprising amount of action considering we’ve had various cats sitting in the windows and sneaking outside. The cats mostly tend to keep the birds off the patio and in the yard, unless there are nests to be built. Maybe you need a cat for your balcony–cut out or stuffed if you don’t want a real one!

      1. It is good your cats tend to help keep the birds away. Guess it also keeps the cats occupied. It’s terrible having the birds come to the balcony all day really. Surprisingly they know how to keep away from my washing. And hope it stays that way.

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