Chugging back home after a sunrise power walk, my wife and I witnessed a tableau in our front yard that could have been pulled from the wall of a fourth-grade art exhibit: a squirrel, a rabbit, a robin, and a mating pair of cardinals, all blissfully unaware they were creating a nature-poster cliché. With a fluffy white cloud posing languidly in the blue sky above them, the only things missing from the composition were a chubby-cheeked chipmunk and a garish blue jay.
The scene was not surprising, really, since we encourage the wild critters of the Highlands to hang out at our house by setting out lots of goodies to attract them. This means we have to accept the aggravations as well as the joys. For example, squirrels will vacuum up as much expensive “bird” seed as you can dish out, waddling away before anything with feathers has a shot at a snack. They’ll also drag off anything they can use as building material for their nests, and they really don’t care how much you paid for it at Home Depot. For that reason – and the fact that I enjoy making free-range squirrel gumbo – I have harvested enough of them that word finally got out that ours can be a Yard of No Return for the rodential marauders: Abandon Hope, Ye Featherless Freeloaders. My apologies to our neighbors, because now the critters go to their yards to rip the stuffing from lawn furniture, dig up flower bulbs and chop up strings of Christmas lights.
Chipmunks also Hoover up loads of birdseed to haul back to their families in their comically stuffed cheeks, but they’re much too cute (and FAST) to harm – and there’s not much meat on them, anyway. A chipmunk thigh would just about fill the food traps in my molars, and if you collected enough pelts to make a vest you’d wipe out the species.
I was mystified by the bird droppings on our front porch, since we don’t put seed out there. I couldn’t imagine what was so appealing to them about a hanging fern and a porch swing. Then one day my wife saw a sparrow emerge from the light fixture and figured it out: They were popping in for the “Big Bulb Bug Buffet,” i.e., the insects that were attracted to the light and couldn’t escape the fixture before a more evolved creature arrived to yank their food chain.
Speaking of which, a hawk of some kind – sharp-shinned, dimple-kneed, club-footed, I’m not really sure – is very grateful for the legions of tasty birds we attract with the seed, and occasionally shreds in for some mourning dove tartar. Talk about a Grand Slam Breakfast. FOOF!
Our favorite show has to be the Hummingbird Follies. I placed two feeders a foot outside our kitchen windows, and it’s awe-inspiring and hilarious to watch the Milk-Dud-sized choppers primp and puff up and viciously protect their territory. For a creature smaller than some swamp mosquitoes I’ve slapped, a hummer can be downright pugnacious, either fighting – or spoiling for one – most of the time. We think we’ve got Mom, Pop, Sonny-Boy and Sis using our feeders as the family dining room, and when it comes to “outside” hummers, their social skills rival North Korea’s.
Is it any wonder we find reality shows so boring?