Morning Coffee: Twenty Minutes in My Backyard

Morning Coffee: Twenty Minutes in My Backyard  By Aime E Duclos

Sparrow Morning CoffeeEnjoying the early morning’s first aromatic and soothing cup of coffee, I find myself sleepily looking out the kitchen nook window into the snow covered wilds of our tiny in-town backyard. There, on the finch feeder sock, is a solitary Goldfinch having breakfast. Very soon he is joined by several of his mates, some with him on the sock, some working the seed speckled snow below, some perched on winter naked branches of the lilacs just behind the hanging thistle sock.

Only moments pass when their serenity is invaded by a large band of House Sparrows. Over the years these Old World interlopers have taken to our bird houses, producing per birdhouse three and sometimes four broods annually, providing much activity and squawking and fledging, plus a steady supply of lunches for our neighborhood Cooper’s Hawk and Merlin. But for today these busy aggressive bullying immigrants are eagerly joining and challenging the smaller Goldfinches for their breakfast, both on the sock and on the ground, while others are perched and noisily chirping on the nearby large leafless quince.

While watching this mélange of feathers and beaks, one Goldfinch doesn’t appear to be a Goldfinch – something is not quite right with its chest and underbelly coloration. Now, with binoculars fetched and up to my eyes, this odd looking Goldfinch is no more to be seen. It did not wait for me, listening to its own life’s rhythms.

From many different directions, into many different directions, the House Sparrows fill the yard with seemingly random flight, a silent cacophony of winged activity. Watching this, I notice off to the left a few Goldfinches resting on one of our young red maples situated near the picket fence by the street, the tree itself starkly resplendent in its late January simplicity. As I am peacefully absorbed in the quiet tranquility of these little perching birds, a streak of crimson shoots past behind them, easily visible thru the sparse branches, commanding my immediate attention. One of “our” two male Cardinals, in a burst eye arresting color, has dramatically made his presence known, as he cannot do otherwise. He then perches atop the tallest of our very tall and overgrown arbor-vitae, proclaiming in song ownership of this territory, surveying all of his realm, and calling for his mate.

The Sparrow activity seems to be converging on and around all our birdhouses. I wonder if the outdoor temperature in the mid-thirty’s this late January morning, after a few days well below freezing when temps hovered in the single digits, are giving these hyper-breeders premature Springtime hormonal urges.

Suddenly, at the sunflower feeder hanging off the eaves of the garage astride the seasonally barren forsythia, there is a male House Finch…. But, wait – a quick look thru the binoculars changes everything: it’s a male Purple Finch, resplendent in his raspberry colored feathered hat and coat. !!! Surprise and wonder fill me, as I cannot recall seeing a Purple Finch here at home, only the now more abundantly common invader from the West Coast, the handsome strawberry streaked House Finch.

The Purple Finch is a splendid bird, and this one is no exception. He leaves the feeder and alights the quince, affording me the opportunity to gaze wondrously at this rare visitor to the backyard. And now I feel reasonably sure that the “not quite right Goldfinch” witnessed earlier was a female Purple Finch, probably this glorious fellow’s mate.

Now a pair of European Starlings join in the bustle, approaching all they do with near manic fervor. Almost immediately after the arrival of the Starlings comes the ever present, ever vigilant, ever the opportunist Blue Jay, perching for a few moments on this branch, then on that limb, calling out his claim to at least some of the food. He swoops down between the edge of the snow and the side of the garage under the sunflower feeder, quickly fills his crop and departs. Wise that he hurried, for now comes the real owner of the backyard, Mr. Gray Squirrel. He charges into the middle of the bird and sunflower seed activity, initially scattering most of his feathered competitors, but reluctantly settling in to share the feast.

Dark Eyed Juncos appear, almost unnoticed as they prowl lightly below the branches and boughs of the lilacs, forsythia and arbor-vitae. Cute little critters, they search for food by scratching at the ground and the surface of the snow, performing in the process what can only be described as Michael Jackson’s “moonwalk”, but at breakneck speed.

Suddenly, the whole scene explodes with a flurry of flapping feathers, all the birds taking wing and literally scattering in every direction imaginable, with Mr Squirrel also making a speedy exit, taking his cue unquestioningly. And the backyard is abruptly empty, devoid of any movement. But from the top of the neighbor’s mature maple tree is movement that catches my eye. There, a gorgeous, stately, but menacingly dangerous sight: a Red-Tailed Hawk. Now here’s the fellow that truly rules the roost, as it were. Fearless and tenacious, he would probably rest for a while, preen for a while, surveying the area for potential meals, then he would take flight to do his gliding back and forth scouting for an unsuspecting vole or chipmunk or squirrel sized beast – very wise that Mr Squirrel took his leave when the birds fled. I realize that I had not noticed the Hawk’s arrival and find myself keenly aware that I lack the natural world’s survival mechanisms. Thankfully, I am not on Mr Hawk’s menu.

But even the mighty Red-Tailed Hawk’s reverie is short lived. Three Crows glide into the Hawk’s tree landing on limbs around him, 8 to 10 feet away. They caw at him and move about in the tree. It’s more than King Hawk can take, so His Majesty takes flight only to find himself under attack from above by the three Crows. And quickly, they are out of sight, the Crows chasing away a potential danger to their clan.

Awe struck and rattled, catching my breath and having a sip of now tepid coffee, I hardly have time to regain my composure when a Goldfinch returns to the thistle feeder. This little fellow is seemingly nowhere near as shaken as I presumed he and his avian brethren would be just a few short Hawk induced nightmare moments ago. Soon his flock mates join him. And Black-Capped Chickadees now appear, flitting from bush to evergreen to branch to the sunflower feeder and off to a branch or shrub breaking open the seed and releasing the tasty meal trapped inside. Then back again to the feeder, repeating the process over and over. And they are joined in this cycle by Tufted Titmice who also do some foraging on the ground. The moonwalking Juncos return to once again dance upon the snow. Mr Squirrel re-assumes his position beneath the sunflower feeder, seemingly unfazed by his near brush with eternity. The large quince fills with dozens of chattering House Sparrows, back to their pastime of communing with their extend family members.

I am about to turn from the window, sensing a completion of some sort, when, off to my left in the other young maple nearer the house, I spot two American Robins, red-orange breasts blazing, their unexpected apparition mesmerizing. They alternately fly the 10 feet to the holly bush by the corner of the house for a breakfast of berries, then back to the maple.

Robins are truly a marvelous sight in the dead of a Maine Winter, and a hopeful sight as well. Perhaps the House Sparrow’s nesting impulses are not all that untimely and early. Perhaps Spring will indeed return, bringing with it its annual refill of hope, the promise of rebirth and the potential for life to fully blossom into everything that it can be. Perhaps with Spring comes another opportunity for growth and completion.

I sigh deeply now, a peaceful smile on my face, a joy in my heart, my step noticeably lighter, as I pour my second cup of coffee. All is right with the world. Well, all is right with my backyard world…  and, for the moment, my world.


Copyright © 2013 [Aime E Duclos]. All Rights Reserved.