Soaring With Eagles
By Lee Lynch
© 2013 Diversity Rules Magazine and Lee Lynch. All Rights Reserved.
As I just complained to a wise friend, it’s darned difficult to concentrate with bald eagles cooing and whistling and squealing in the trees outside. I keep popping up to gape at them in wonder and today, for the first time, I was able to watch two come in for slo-mo landings on their customary high branches, feathered pantaloons and feet first. It’s a little disconcerting to find out that this powerful raptor, our national bird, sounds like a giant squeaky toy and appears to be wearing Elizabethan bloomers. And why did our forefathers choose a bird of prey to represent the United States anyway? It’s just too accurate a portrayal right now.
Thanks to the Pianist and the Handy dyke, I work on the second floor of their rental, close to the eagles, and I feed smaller birds on the deck. Right now an Oregon junco, a.k.a. “snowbird,” (because juncos, like R.V.ers, return in the winter and are just as ubiquitous) is sharing the black oil sunflower seed feeder with a white-crowned sparrow and a female house finch, all decked out in her stripes. Bald eagles at the coast prefer to feed on fish, but if hungry, they will snatch smaller birds. As much of a thrill as it is to live with eagles, I worry about these little guys.
And the cats next door. I periodically call the neighbors to make sure their very small cats are not out when I see the red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures and bald eagles hover over their front yard. The neighbors also have handsome dark cat statues on the edge of their deck. Even when the real kitties are inside, the vultures get so bold that the neighbors have to hide the statues.
This bird feeding business all started when the Pianist and the Handy dyke mentioned that they enjoyed seeing the stellar jays, elegant black-crested, midnight blue birds, drinking from the copper bird bath the Handy Dyke attached to my deck rail. Having become inundated with bird feeding duties at a former residence, I was opting for keeping it simple here, but the Pianist and the Handy Dyke brought over sacks of peanuts in the shell. Once a day, then twice, now three of four times, I fill my old wooden feeder with peanuts and the stellar jays put on their shows. When their town crier notices the refilled feeder, he perches on a tree limb, squawking with all his might that the grub has been served. They particularly like to stuff one or two peanuts, shell and all, down their maws and hold yet another in their beaks. Despite their constant appetites and raucous complaints when not fed on demand (the jays sound more dignified than the eagles), some of these peanut-ovores are fussy. I have watched a bird pick up and set down a dozen nuts before the other jays lose patience and rush the feeder, driving the fussbudget off with a fiercely held treat I always hope is the “right” one.
Our stellar jays have been reproducing plentifully. You can always tell the babies because they’re a mess, with cowlicks and loose feathers and bewildered looks. “How,” one can imagine a newly fledged bird saying, “am I supposed to get these peanuts out of the shell?” This summer I had the privilege of seeing Junior, then a second baby, Pigpen, grow up.
And these are just the winter and year-round birds. I also get to feed black headed grosbeaks, red crossbills, golden-crowned sparrows, American goldfinches, black-capped and chestnut-backed chickadees, among others, as well as a mob of psychedelic house finches whose strange oranges and yellows are produced by a pox that affects them when they winter in Southern California. Some would say it also affects the Southern Californians who move to Oregon and start campaigns against gay rights. That, as a matter of fact, is how I got into feeding the birds originally. During the ballot measure wars in the nineties, I found a social sanctuary with the local Audubon Society. They didn’t fuss about my lavender color any more than they did about the birds’ plumage.
To add to the distractions, the carpenter across the street has chosen today to repair his roof, its sheets of shingling having blown around the neighborhood when 125 m.p.h. winds came through two weeks ago. My sweetheart and I laughed about tomorrow’s predicted tempest: only 65 m.p.h. A bird’s life is not easy on the stormy west coast.
In the southeast with my sweetheart last week I spent perhaps five minutes in her backyard before I spotted an unidentified raptor and two kinds of woodpeckers, along with smaller breeds. The next day I photographed a snowy egret posing atop an S.U.V. Hanging out at a second story window, I watched as an alligator in a small pond stalked some surprisingly agile red-nosed moor hens, while a little green heron flew overhead.
Back home, the gulls wheel over the bay to warn of the coming winds, the little guys are jostling one another at happy hour in the feeder. As my wise friend pointed out, there are worse distractions than eagles.
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