Text and photos © 2015 Adele Wilson
My last post was about our resident pair of Mockingbirds disappearing a couple of days before our January 6th snowstorm. I don’t know where they went, but I didn’t see them for over a week. Perhaps they went on their winter vacation … perhaps down to the Caribbean?
I had thought back to last winter when we had weeks and weeks of snow cover. I hadn't remembered seeing any Mockingbirds during all those weeks. So I had concluded that our Mockingbirds must dislike snow and that I wouldn’t see them again until early spring.
It was wonderful to have the Mockingbirds back. Last year, just prior to Christmas, I had forgiven them for being so possessive of the feeders and chasing the other birds away from them. My solution had been to hang up even more feeders on the trees around the building. My reasoning was that the Mockingbirds would have a more difficult time guarding all of the feeders at once, consequently allowing the other birds to eat at them.
In the process of becoming accustomed to seeing the Mockingbird pair perched on their tree during most mornings, I had even begun developing an attachment to them!
We had another snowstorm on January 26th. This time, surprisingly, the Mockingbirds did not leave the area! On the left you can see one of the birds guarding their feeder that afternoon.
To this day, I have never been able to figure out why these birds disappeared during our January 6th snowstorm, but hung around during our January 26th storm. But I am so glad they stayed! I had been worried about them earlier in the month when I couldn't find them anywhere.
With the advent of more snow, I hung a second feeder on the Mockingbirds' tree. Perhaps the Mockingbirds would start feeling compassion for the other birds who were having difficulty finding food due to the ground being covered with snow.
It took a while for the January 26th snow to finally melt. Sometimes during certain parts of the day, the Mockingbirds were nowhere around, giving the other birds a chance to feed on their tree.
I continued to replace the cakes in the feeders on the Mockingbirds' tree. At one point, all I had left were black oil sunflower seed suet cakes; so the Mockingbirds were left with two of that type of cake on their tree. Unfortunately, the Mockingbirds were not eating from either cake. This was the way that I discovered that they truly do not like black oil sunflower seeds.
By early February, most of our snow had melted and I was able to get to the store. Knowing that the Mockingbirds love my homemade peanut butter cakes, I purchased natural peanut butter, corn meal, sunflower kernels and shelled peanuts.
That night I stayed up late and made four peanut butter cakes from scratch. The next morning I shifted the remaining chunks of suet on the Mockingbird's tree into the feeders on the other trees and hung one of the new peanut butter cakes on the Mockingbirds’ tree.
The two Mockingbirds immediately began gorging themselves on the new peanut butter cake! One bird would feed while the other would guard from a higher branch. I could tell that they deeply appreciated me for hanging the cake for them.
The Mockingbirds and I were striking up quite a friendship. After my hanging the peanut butter cake on their tree, they were becoming even more grateful to me for feeding them.
Later that day, I noticed that the cake was also very popular with the Starlings. While the Mockingbirds were able to chase one or two Starlings away from the peanut butter cake, the arrival of an immense number of Starlings would cause the Mockingbirds to retreat.
Upon exiting my apartment and stepping out onto the porch, I noticed that that most of the Starlings on the Mockingbirds’ tree would immediately take flight. I think the Mockingbirds were beginning to notice that, too.
I do not deliberately attempt to scare the Starlings away. They automatically fly from the property when any human comes within 30 to 40 feet of them.
The Mockingbirds were becoming increasingly appreciative of me for inadvertently scaring the Starlings away by my presence on the porch. I was even getting the feeling that the Mockingbirds were welcoming me as they saw me exit from my apartment and step outside. It was almost as if they were breathing sighs of relief at my taking over “guard duty” for them!
I hung the second homemade peanut butter cake on a tree that is farther from the porch than is the Mockingbirds’ tree. Both of the new peanut butter cakes were proving to be extremely popular with the all of the birds. In fact, both of the cakes were gone within 24 hours!
I refilled the empty suet feeder on the Mockingbirds’ tree with another homemade peanut butter cake. As I began to observe the newly placed cake, I noticed a dozen Starlings descending on it! Just as before, the Mockingbirds were not chasing any of the Starlings off the tree. Instead, the Mockingbirds were retreating from the tree.
The replacement peanut butter cake did not even last as long as the first one. After hanging it out during the afternoon, I noticed it was completely gone by the next morning.
It suddenly dawned on me that I had been feeding the Starlings, and the Starlings only. The Starlings, en masse, were chasing all the other birds away!
I could not afford continuing to supply the Starlings with new cakes once or twice a day. So I had an idea. What if I put a suet feeder on my porch, an area that is more heavily trafficked by humans? Perhaps the Starlings would be intimidated from feeding there.
I share my porch with my two next-door neighbors; so there are three of us who commonly traverse it on our ways to and from the insides of our apartments. In fact, my neighbors’ door is only a few inches from mine; we use the same landing when we step outside.
So I looked in my kitchen cabinet, dug out my last empty suet cage, which happened to have a chain attached to it, and decided to hang it from the porch rail. There was one problem, however. The chain was not long enough for it to go around the rail.
Fortunately, I am a jewelry maker and found an inexpensive gold-plated chain in my supplies. I attached the chain to the feeder’s existing chain, and voila! The chain was long enough.
I filled the suet cage with the one remaining homemade peanut butter cake and took it out onto the porch. One of the Mockingbirds was perching, in its usual fashion, on the tree by the driveway, attempting to guard the feeder on the tree. I called to the Mockingbird and showed it the new cake inside the feeder.
You might wonder what type of call I made to the Mockingbird. It was the same musical “Hello-oh” that I had been voicing to the Mockingbirds for the last several weeks, and I’m sure the Mockingbird recognized it.
As soon as I showed the Mockingbird the new feeder containing the new suet cake, I attached the feeder to the porch rail and returned inside my apartment, closing the door behind me. As I peeked out my blinds, the Mockingbird IMMEDIATELY landed on the porch rail and proceeded to help itself at the feeder!
I then cracked the door to take a picture, at which point the Mockingbird was becoming alarmed at my close presence. I quickly snapped the shutter without having time to frame the photo or focus the image.
Hoping to get a better photo, I proceeded out to the porch. Unfortunately, that caused the Mockingbird to take flight; so I returned inside to my apartment.
After several tries of re-entering my apartment and exiting again in hopes of getting more photos, I noticed that the first Mockingbird must have told its mate about the new feeder. Both birds were sitting on the fence, not far from the porch.
The two Mockingbirds must have realized that they had been given a treasure. They immediately proceeded to protect that treasure by peering in all directions in case another bird might decide to avail itself of the newly found food.
Finally, both Mockingbirds flew to the porch. One bird proceeded to eat at the feeder while the other bird stood guard duty. The photo below shows both birds although it may be difficult to see the bird at the feeder.
My taking of the photos must have intimidated the one Mockingbird from eating because it soon took flight. But the second bird remained on the porch to continue to guard the feeder.
Unfortunately, after I re-entered my apartment, I peeked through the blinds and observed a couple of Starlings at the feeder with one of the Mockingbirds attempting to chase them off. I stepped out onto the porch again, causing the Starlings to fly away. The Mockingbird flew to the nearby fence.
Over the next few days while I was outside, but near the porch, I occasionally noticed the two Mockingbirds feeding from the new porch feeder. Judging by the slow rate at which the cake was being consumed, it seemed that the problem had been solved. Perhaps my strategy had been successful, and the few Starlings who might have attempted to feed at the cake on the porch were being chased away by the Mockingbirds.
I was hoping that the new cake would last for at least a week. However, at the end of four days, most of it had been consumed. And at the end of five days it was gone.
This time I had no more homemade cakes to put out. I went to Southern States and purchased a variety pack of commercial suet cakes. One of them was labeled “Peanut Butter”; so I refilled the porch feeder with that cake.
I began to think that I finally had a system going. I would continue feeding the Mockingbirds the cakes they love, but feed them on the porch where the Starlings did not feel comfortable because of the frequency of human traffic.
Unfortunately, however, it has now been a week, and the entire suet cake that I purchased at Southern States is still there! Apparently, birds are like humans; there are certain foods that they do not like to eat.
Next time I make homemade peanut butter cakes, I will reserve them for hanging on the porch, one by one. In the meantime, I have five suet feeders hanging from the trees around the building. I checked them today, and they all appear to be at least half full.
So there is ample food for the birds, even with the snowfall we are expecting tomorrow. And if the birds consume the tree-hung suet cakes before I can replace them, they are welcome to land on the porch and start partaking of the cake that is hanging there!
I first began having intimate encounters with wild birds when Barn Swallows nested on my porch during 2011 and 2012. During those encounters, I became convinced that humans and birds can develop meaningful rapports, communicate with each other, and enjoy mutually beneficial relationships. You can read about my experiences in Bonding with the Barn Swallows, available at Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1494481464/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1494481464&linkCode=as2&tag=barnswalfrie-20&linkId=UWK65NAR2XUXEJWL.