Friday, May 20, 2011

Millet Mania

It has always interested me how certain birds have very precise feeding preferences; they will only visit a certain type of feeder, will sort through a mixed seed to find their favorites, and may even eat in a very particular way. This is never so apparent at my backyard feeders than when the lazuli buntings come to visit.

These beautiful spring birds are mad for millet - they will swarm over my platform feeder frantically feeding, and they quickly discover other feeders offering millet or mixed seed they can pillage. They staunchly ignore other feeders, however, even with the choicy hulled sunflower seeds or more expensive Nyjer.

I'm thrilled that the lazulis have returned this spring; I've had a dozen or more males feeding at once, with a smaller but no less voracious number of females. Fortunately, my platform feeder is still housed beneath the patio table for shelter from the spring rains, but even chilly, unseasonable weather hasn't deterred their appetites - I'm adding another heap of millet to the feeder every couple of days. I know they won't stay around for long and will probably leave for more elevated nesting areas in another couple of weeks, but while they're here I'm happy to host a millet-heavy buffet.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Duck Drama

This spring has been a dramatic one for the resident mallards in our neighbor's pond. Each year a pair scouts the pond in early nesting season, and invariably we see the ducklings for a day or two before they graduate to wilder surroundings than a cultivated backyard pond. This year, however, two drakes have been contending for the affections of one female, and one of the drakes has been the clear victor - that is, he has retained his tail feathers while the other has been ceremoniously unmanned. For several days he sulked around our patio (not too wounded to ignore the cracked corn), and even now he occasionally flits over to the pond until he is chased away by the mated mallard. The female, in the meantime, ignores them both for the most part. There has been a second female visiting on occasion and while the two gals will get together for a good gossip, only one stays nearby.

Then, just a few days ago, the ducklings arrived. Always adorable, these small balls of fluff were not at all tentative in trying out the water this year, and when they tired they curled up under mom's feathers to stay warm and snuggle. Their early lives were not without drama as well, however, as one of the drakes started to chase the brooding female all around the pond. She was frantic - unwilling to fly and leave her babies, she kept circling around her brood even while the male was quite literally on her tail. Fortunately, our neighbor intervened and chased away the drake several times, and eventually he got the idea that he wasn't welcome for the time being.

Now the ducklings have moved on, but one adult pair is still visiting occasionally, including raiding our cracked corn dishes - to which they are most welcome. My best thought is that it is likely the second female and the earlier rejected drake - now graciously regrowing his tail feathers, which are coming in but notably shorter than average. Perhaps later this spring we'll have visits from another young brood, but hopefully without as much drama.