On the road …again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Daily Visits By Our Furry and Feathered Friends
The four bird feeding stations and three bird houses in our back yard may have been among the attractions to our serene residence; but local deer, foxes, rabbits and squirrels came even before we put up the structures announcing that lunch is being served to our feathered friends. Shortly after we moved to rural Virginia in 2011, we were aware that the daily sightings of local fauna of the furry kind was going to be a part of the contentment of being here, but the added pleasures of colorful songbirds was something we could and did encourage. Thus, the bird feeders were intended for feathered visitors; old friends like robins, cardinals, chickadees; blue jays, and blackbirds. We were also anticipating attracting new local friends like Carolina Wrens, bluebirds and the mockingbirds that are more common in this area. But food is food, and we suspected that some four-legged creatures might invite themselves to share daily lunch.
Come they did, on a routine, daily basis. Our own resident family of deer that make their home in the woods not far away, consist(ed) of a buck and six female whitetail deer; and a few fawns that were born early each spring and summer. They foraged for grass on both the front and back lawns, but also helped themselves to the bird seed if and when they could tip the feeders dangling from the trees. From time to time, the larger deer were a bit too destructive; they trampled the mesh fences that enclosed our vegetable gardens, and knocked the feeders to the ground. We had to repair and fortify the enclosures often. Eventually, we erected a pine fence that now keeps the deer out. It also keeps the biggest of the bird feeders relatively safe from destruction.The big feeder is now located inside the fence, just back from stakes that support a vigorous kiwi vine and the grape roots that we transplanted from Pennsylvania.
Bird feeder, hand made by Paul Pellek
These days, only the squirrels manage to gain access to all of the bird feeders, including the one inside the fence that is perched on top of a metal pole. They go about their daily routine by checking each feeder to see what is available. Of course, there are usually some birds nearby, so they may have to wait for their turn. And while the order of visitation to the feeders may change, the routine by which the squirrels take over the feeders has not changed. At first, it was one or two squirrels that climbed the loblolly pine tree to then jump to the edges of one feeder that dangles in air. Or they would scamper up into the branches of the nearby persimmon tree and feed while hanging upside down on one of the upper branches. We have that on video film, but it doesn't show up very clearly.
Squirrels feed by hanging upside down by their rear legs
But eventually, they learned that they could either climb up the steel pole supporting the largest feeder or jump from the fence to land directly on the roof of the plexiglass feeder inside the fence. It was educational watching them as they learned how best to get at the generous rations inside the transparent feeder. Word must have gotten out in the squirrel community, because we went from having one or two squirrels, to five of them. That number could not be verified until the day we saw all five of them in the yard at the same time, staking out all of the bird feeders.
The presence of the squirrels likewise attracted the attention of a local grey fox. As luck would have it, the Footloose Forester was able to see the fox in action. Unfortunately for one of the squirrels, on that day the fox was seen slinking off with the limp body of a squirrel in his mouth. An occasional stray cat also shows up from time to time, but they seem to have little luck grabbing either birds or squirrels.
The two bunny rabbits that hang around on the lawns would seem to be most vulnerable to the foxes (there are two grey ones and one red fox), but so far we have no hint that anything is amiss. The rabbits also join in the daily feast at the bird feeders by concentrating on the seed that has fallen to the ground, sometimes in the same general time frame when the rations are loaded into the feeders.
Our little family of feathered and furry friends share in ways that should not be taken for granted as the daily spectacle that it truly is. They are teaching us how dissimilar animals get along in such measured gestures that it is impossible to deny that it is happening before our eyes; and that we are privileged to be their hosts.