Subbin' In: Backyard animals provide entertainment

A pileated woodpecker visits the author’s backyard suet feeder.

One can be greatly amused by watching the animals in the backyard. My backyard in Braham is hardly the African Serengeti or the Amazon jungle where predator-prey factors rule. Instead, there is a much different “food chain” at my place, and the happenings here are much more entertaining than they are gruesome.

I’ll start with the birds. We stock our feeders with various seeds, corn cobs, and suet. Crows (they’re huge!) are abundant, and birds of all kinds like suet. It’s common to see grackles, chickadees, blue jays, and several species of woodpeckers knocking down their daily ration of fat. Crows can’t hang on the suet feeder, but they wait in the snow paths below.

When the pileated woodpecker deftly executes his sine-wave type flight pattern through the trees, the birds at the suet feeder quickly make way. I don’t think it’s fear; I just think they know their place. Besides, there’s not much room left when “Woody” arrives, and, if Woody wants more space, Woody will get it.

There are times when several species of woodpeckers share the suet feeder. From the tiny downy to the mid-sized hairy and the slightly larger red-bellied, they are a pleasure to watch. Like best friends, these smaller assorted woodpeckers get along fine.

Sharing the table with outsiders, however, is another story. Recently, I was captivated by a downy woodpecker as he cautiously tiptoed across a snow-covered birch branch. There it was, kicking tiny diamonds into the air and inching ever closer to the suet feeder where four grackles were grazing. One final leap and the downy was on the suet feeder. Outnumbered and vastly undersized, he was quickly sent packing!

In a strange way, it reminded me of an eagle circling over road-killed deer, slowly getting closer and wondering whether it’s safe to feast. Or, the giant smallmouth bass sneaking past submerged branches and rocks in the Snake River so as not to scare away my lure (Ha!) before finally smashing it to smithereens. A split-second victory turns into abrupt defeat.

Birds which are driven away from the feeder don’t starve though. They seem to sit back and watch the “mean” birds jab the suet and drop much of it onto the ground below. Their eyes seem to light up, knowing that what lands there has no one’s name on it. These bits might be table scraps to some, but, for others, they represent survival for at least another day.

Winter rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks are as decorative as they are entertaining. Rabbits reside beneath my shed near the garden, and my relationship with them is fragile. I let them stay rent-free, but with restrictions. In the “warmer” weather, squirrels and chipmunks run rings around the tree trunks and use skinny branches as springboards to other destinations. Upon spotting me, they nervously race off to the security of the high branches.

Outdoor animal-watching is like viewing an adventure movie. There’s an all-star cast and cameo appearances, and anything can happen at any time!

Outdoor lunch update: Last month, I mentioned my 2021 plan to share an outdoor meal with someone at least once per month and that my first one was on Jan. 12 with Terry. The temp that day was 30, above! After a last-minute postponement on Feb. 3, my second was held on Feb. 12 with Chad, a long-ago co-worker. We enjoyed an outdoor lunch in Milaca where the temperature was eight, BELOW! We managed twenty minutes before a catch-up visit in the car! Who’s next??

LOREN BRABEC is a contributing sports writer for the Isanti-Chisago County Star and author of several Braham sports books.

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