By Lalanya Bodenbender
When Grandma moved to an assisted living home, we inherited a pretty birdfeeder that used to hang outside her window. The memory it holds for me is not of it swaying in the breeze with a medley of seeds, but with of a heap of scrambled eggs leftover from breakfast set out for the birds to enjoy. In years since, I have never managed to entice a bird to eat the bits of egg I offer up, but I have seen tiny chickadees and titmice take off with giant chunks of eggshell. I’ve continued the family tradition of putting odd things out for the birds by sprinkling the cashew pulp strained out of our homemade nut milk on a log. This is a hit with the big Blue Jays.
Throughout the winter and into the nesting season, it is our number one joy to entice an ever growing list of birds to visit the area around our cabin. It was built on a patch of ground that was previously inhabited by Autumn Olive and Multiflora Rose. A couple of days on the tractor cleared just enough ground to situate the tiny abode and to start planting native plants, flowers, and a smattering of vegetables. We added a simple little $40 quickie pond liner from the hardware store which has done more to attract rarely sighted birds than any expensive bird food mix. All around the cabin in a panorama is a collection of feeders that I make out of junk. There’s an old pie plate here, a galvanized chicken feeder there. I even have a yard sale candelabra with peanut butter smeared into each of the candle holders. Variety is the key to attracting all shapes and sizes of birds. Some, like Cardinals, prefer wide open platforms. Others, such as Doves and Juncos, like to prance around on the ground gathering whatever is blown or thrown down.
Given the rising cost of bird seed this year, I must say I am happy for the return of colorful birds that don’t come seeking a store bought lunch. Robins are bob-bob-bobbing along gathering worms. Warblers and Scarlet Tanagers visit the pond. Cedar Waxwings help themselves to any leftover berries in the wild shrubs. Bluebirds and Tree Swallows come for the housing, and have decided to cohabitate in a Purple Martin house built by a Circle Pines resident woodworker. Every morning, we watch each tell the other to take a hike. They don’t seem to notice or care that they are not Purple Martins. Neither do we. Purple Martins would be nice, but Tree Swallows are lovely and lively and who can resist the peaceful hue of the Bluebird?
A few years ago I decided to stop putting out nectar for hummingbirds. After attracting ants, wasps, and a particularly aggressive albeit beautiful flock of Orioles that trashed my feeders, I decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Lo and behold, the hummingbirds visit each day anyway! They love easy perennial plants such as Comfrey and Bee Balm as well as pretty annuals like Petunias and, my favorite, Calibrachoa.
The best bird sightings happen when we are doing mundane household activities. Today while stirring fried cabbage, a trio of bright blue Indigo Buntings came hopping around on the lawn. Right above them a flash of orange revealed an Oriole looking disdainfully at some chopped strawberries. Sorry fella, I ran out of jelly! My entertainment during an outdoor shower this week was watching a wren try to shove oversized sticks into an old gourd. It finally succeeded and I must say the gourd nest is looking cozy. Dishwashing has become less tedious this spring, as the little pond is strategically placed right outside the window above the sink. Goldfinches, Grosbeaks, and Siskins come to sip and splash. A frog sits in the same spot for hours a day.
Last year the frog population exploded, and the birds were scared to come to the pond. Hopefully this year some frogs and birds will relocate to another little pond we made out by the lane going towards the power line. It has a fancy babbling pump powered by a solar panel, and is conveniently located under that popular lakeside Purple Martin house. Behind it is a small “Prairie Plant Nursery” with seedlings that we are molly coddling to later spread out and add to the big prairie/savanna restoration out on Norris Road. Some days we look over to see a field full of Robins and Finches perched atop the stakes marking each plant. In the fall if all goes well, they will be perching instead upon the dried stalks of the new flowers.
Past the big orchard, on the way out to the power line, sits one lone apple tree on the left in the big flat meadow. Underneath is a bench that the woodworker made for humans. Come sit a spell to listen for birdsong and view the colorful winged show.