THE GOLDFINCHES, LIKE US, are new to this corner of Center Island, a delightful couple, though somewhat flashy dressers.
Likewise this is the first season we’ve seen the brown-headed cowbird at our cabin feeders. They’re pleasant enough, but their tendency to lay their eggs in other birds’ nests puts them several pegs down on the social scale. Come on, guys, if you’re going to have kids it’s time to shoulder the responsibility.
The hummingbirds — well, we’ve never seen so many, and they’ve put a serious dent in our supply of Perky Pet instant nectar mix (which no longer comes with red dye, so I’m not sure we’re paying for anything more than, uh, white sugar).
Watching the birds, and keeping eyes peeled for newcomers, is a happy part of our new daily routine. We have several bird guides, but our favorite quick reference is a fold-out waterproof field guide, Sibley’s Backyard Birds of the Pacific Northwest.
Keeping the feeders supplied at first seemed a challenge on this island with no stores, but we’ve discovered we can order 25-pound bags of bird seed through Amazon, delivered to our island mail shack by the U.S. Postal Service, bless ’em.
Now here’s a poser: In a pure pandering mood, we’ve tried giving the birds straight black-oil sunflower seeds (the high-priced bird food), like those houses that give out full-size Snickers bars at Halloween. But oddly that doesn’t seem to bring the birds as much as the lower-priced “mystery mix” of sunflower, millet, cracked corn and other tiny, white unidentifiable seeds that resemble something that gets stuck on your socks when you walk through an unmowed meadow. The birds still fling the small stuff all over the ground in their hunt for sunflower seeds, but it seems to make them happiest. It’s like a hobby.
In our new hermit-like existence we’re pleased to find we can still tune into KNKX public radio on our 25-year-old clock radio and listen to BirdNote anytime we want to wake up as early as 6:30 (or, ahem, if we laze in the sack until it’s repeated at 9 — not that we do that much). Among other points of interest the program helps tune us into interesting bird songs.
Oh, an exciting first-timer at the kitchen-window feeder yesterday: a female black-headed grosbeak, which is a pretty darned big songbird, almost like a small owl. One of our books describes the bird’s song as “rich and warbling, with some wolf-whistlelike phrases; call is a sharp eek.” That I’ve got to listen for.