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Did You Stand Awhile and Stare?

One thing about our garden: lots of birds. This year we have one pair of cardinals, song sparrows, house sparrows, and common grackles all nesting in the back yard. The song sparrows are my favourite. They're like little mice, in that if they can creep along the ground rather than fly, they will. They fly down from the maple, into the elm, then into the big-bush-coated-in-small-white-flowers-that-I-don't-know-the-name-of, under the deck, onto the woodpile, and then and only then will they dart out to the small paved space where we dry our laundry. I usually throw a few seeds down there for them, since it's the only place they'll go. Far too timid to actually get on the bird feeder.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the grackle family. They slam into the feeder, kicking off the other birds, and then they loaf around the flowered end of the garden looking threatening and generally raising two fingers to the world with a grack-grack at come who will.

But we don't have starlings this year. Some may recall that we had starlings on both ends of the house because the squirrels had tunnelled in through the air vent at the top of the "A" of the roof. Then after the starlings, the squirrels came back and tried to set up for the winter despite my best efforts at chasing them away with a long pole in the teensy attic space that I can't actually get into, even crawling.

Well, we got a contractor to seal up the holes with screen and chicken-wire that Mrs. Squirrel spent an hour every clear day digging at. She finally got through just in time to have her efforts spoiled by a pair of starlings moving in. That was the final straw for me. I sealed off the vent with an old broiling pan we somehow inherited, and we got the contractor to come back, this time sealing them with a kind of metal grillwork used in tile substrate and enamelled staples.

But we needn't have bothered. The grackles set up their nest in the arbour that acts as a trellis for our honeysuckle vine. And then they got territorial. As the chicks got larger and presumably more scrumptious, they started threatening the starlings. I saw one take on a fully-grown crow and win. Then, the other day, Mr. Grackle was seen to be picking the hair out of the tail of Mrs. Squirrel, chasing her pell-mell off the electrical cable that was her main access to our attic. How I cheered, and wiped a happy tear away.

But things have gone to a new extreme. All the young squirrels are out now, and both Mr. and Mrs. Grackle have been chasing them out of the trees constantly. They've been so persistent in their attacks that the squirrels have even been driven out of their nests, and are wandering around the neighbourhood homeless. Which means they're running into the territory of other squirrels, who get angry and start to chase them, inevitably into the territory of another set of squirrels and the whole fracas continues.

This afternoon, all order broke down while bands of young squirrels (no, seriously. I counted ten in one melee), all going chrk, chrk, chrk, have been chasing each other along the power lines first in one direction, then another, and then back again, with Mr. Grackle dive-bombing them at random. I laughed, then went out with Dalen to let her do her usual business.

Naturally I led her to the arbour, opened the arbour gate, and stood there, giving her verbal clues as to where she was and where the proper place for doing her business is.

Wouldn't you know that a few seconds later, I hear a noise like a taffeta gown and claws dig into my back. I turn around, and Mrs. Grackle is giving me the furious stare with both her baleful yellow eyes.

Will it ever be safe to go out again?

ETA: Behold the common grackle at its most friendly.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 6th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC)
Are grackles always that agressive? I was in Texas a month ago, and after I had finished getting used to how pretty they were, I started noticing they didn't look too friendly, with other birds or each other ;)

Always an amazing experience to birdwatch outside Europe, though!
Jun. 6th, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
I've never known them to behave so badly. But then again, I've never had them nest so close to my back door.

And the squirrels are still running battles across the electrical wires. I think the black ones are winning over the grey.
Jun. 6th, 2011 09:45 pm (UTC)
I'm picturing West Side Story, except with squirrels. If you watch long enough, I'm sure the rodents will break out in coordinated dance mid-fight.
Jun. 6th, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC)
They're no good, they're no good, they're no earthly good. Deep down inside, they're just no good!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )