Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Friday, October 24, 2014

Peabody Street Pickwick Club

(Transcript of today's For the Birds)
Red-bellied Woodpecker

Now that our huge warbler migration fall-out is over, life on Peabody Street is much less fraught. During the peak, I was getting several hundred White-throated Sparrows in my yard—now I have fewer than a dozen from day to day. Juncos and Fox Sparrows have supplanted the White-crowned and Harris’s Sparrows, and I haven’t noticed a Yellow-rumped Warbler, in my suet feeders or trees, in over a week.

With an order of magnitude fewer birds, it’s a little quiet here, but there’s still plenty to look at. Back when things were still hopping, I started hearing a Red-bellied Woodpecker on and off, but other than noisily announcing his presence, he didn’t seem to want to reveal his whereabouts. But now for the past 10 days or so, he’s been coming out into the open several times a day. 

Red-bellied Woodpecker

He pigs out at my suet and peanut butter feeders, and finishes up each visit with several trips to the tray feeder filled with sunflower seeds. Red-bellied Woodpeckers don’t have a gular pouch—the throat pouch that Blue Jays fill with seeds to hide away—so he can only handle two or three in his bill at a time. He seems to be wedging them into crevices in the bark of trees in my yard and my neighbor’s yard. He’ll make a dozen or so trips doing this before he disappears for an hour or so. Hiding food around seems to indicate that this guy will spend the winter here. 

Red-bellied Woodpecker

A male Pileated Woodpecker shows up every few days. He’s very inquisitive—one day he even alighted on my picnic table to check it out.

Pileated Woodpecker on my picnic table

I have an above-average number of squirrels in my yard again this year. It’s a problem, but we’ve finally succeeded in getting the bird feeders situated so the squirrels can’t jump in from the fence or trees, and Russ kept tweaking our squirrel guards until now none of the squirrels seem to be breaching them. But when I’m at work at my desk, one squirrel gives me long, hard stares. I’m pretty sure that’s the one who’d had mange or some other scurvy skin condition a couple of winters ago. I’d been looking out for her—tossing peanuts on the ground when she caught my attention—and so now she expects special treatment. When she shows up, I’ve been tossing whole peanuts out the window, and she rushes to the ground and grabs them. Unfortunately, several other squirrels figured this out, and since I’m a soft touch, I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time at the window tossing peanuts to squirrels.

Gray Squirrel

I didn’t have a huge Blue Jay presence in my yard this fall, though a few times I had over a dozen at once. They don’t seem to be passing through anymore. But one bird—he or she comes alone each time—started following the squirrels and digging up their peanuts. Then he started flying in to peanuts I was tossing on the ground. If I tossed out two or three, the jay always picked up one and carried it over by another one, then put down the first and picked up the second, and flew off with whichever one was heavier. But soon my squirrels started darting for him whenever he alights on the ground. I’m far more partial to a Blue Jay than to even the most endearing squirrel, but I couldn’t toss the peanuts anywhere where he was safe from marauding squirrels, so I started whistling and talking to him, and now when he arrives, now he gives me a long, hard stare or squawks.

Blue Jay

That's my signal to put a peanut on the roof of my one small window feeder—the one place the squirrels can’t get to. At first the jay was skittish and mistrustful, but now he flies in the moment the window is closed, grabs his peanut, and flies off to hide it somewhere across the street. 

Blue Jay

Last weekend a pair of Blue Jays started chasing him and trying to steal them, but they apparently didn’t find Peabody Street—at least my corner of it—a suitable winter quarters, and I haven’t seen them in several days.


Besides these special individuals, I have a couple of flocks of chickadees visiting regularly, including my beloved little one who’s missing its front toes. So I’m spending this late fall in pleasant company—Peabody Street’s very own Pickwick Club.

Black-capped Chickadee

1 comment :

  1. Hi - I discovered this wonderful page by chance - I was googling "Pickwick Club", as in Dickens's novel, The Pickwick Papers. Did you call these birds "Peabody Street's Pickwick Club" because you are a fan of The Pickwick Papers? If so, you might be interested in taking a look at my forthcoming novel Death and Mr Pickwick, which will be published in May by Random House (in the UK) and in June by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (in the USA). It tells the story behind the creation of The Pickwick Papers. You can find out more at: www.deathandmrpickwick.com Birds, in fact, feature quite prominently in my novel.

    I have also set up a facebook page for the novel, where I post bits and pieces of Pickwickiana on a daily basis, with the emphasis on visual material - and I would be delighted if you would post pics of your Peabody Street Pickwick Club on the page. It's at www.facebook.com/deathandmrpickwick

    It would also be great if you were to get in touch. I have always hoped that, by writing the novel, I would make many new friends. I can be contacted via the website.

    Best wishes

    Stephen Jarvis

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