Feeding our fine-feathered friends

#511 in a series of true experiences in real estate
May 2006, Hills Newspapers

Birds provide backyard enjoyment
In his garden last week a client pointed out a bird’s nest hanging amongst the branches of a pittosporum tree. When I could adjust my sight to see through the good camouflage of leaves, a little bird was just emerging from a small hole near the top and side of what looked like a woven sack.

The client said he thought it was a bush tit, that this is the sort of nest bush tits build. He’d discovered the nest while he was pruning the tree and had been enjoying seeing a pair of birds going back and forth, in and out, apparently tending to their babies.

We couldn’t see or hear the babies of course who must be kept cozy at the bottom of the nest, like living in the toe of a warm sock. I’d never seen a nest like that one in person before but once hummingbirds chose a criss-crossed spot in a clematis vine on the back fence in my garden as a good spot for a nest. The nest was tiny and looked remarkably like its surroundings.

It was only by chance that I learned it was there while clipping nearby. We were able to get close without disturbing the nest and could see an egg inside – only one. Or so we thought. Next we glimpsed a teensy baby bird; maybe the size of a thimble.

And after that, the next time we looked, there were two baby birds. The space was so small, the birds even smaller, plus they were packed together so tightly, that we hadn’t realized there were two.

I do enjoy seeing birds, more than ever the past few months since we started feeding finches. We hadn’t had a bird feeder for quite awhile because more recently we’ve had a cat that catches things – lizards sometimes but mostly, mice. But when our friend Shaun suggested getting a thistle-filled net sack for finches that could be hung high off the ground, we immediately bought one. (Any pet food store has them, or grocery stores like Lucky’s, or Target.)

Shaun rigged up a pulley on a rope in a tree outside the kitchen window with the seed sack hanging about 8 feet off the ground. Finches come, lots of them (some are pure yellow, like canaries). They cling to sides of the sack and peck away.

We can easily lower the sack to refill it and because the birds do not feed on the ground, the cat can’t get to them. There is concrete under the feeder so spilled seed can be swept up and this is good because I remember how messy birdseed can be. Some seed has hulls that the birds discard and other spilled seed sprouts into weeds.

That other feeder experience was when my children were young and my mother was at our house most everyday. She knew the name of the bird with the red wings and the black-headed one too, something I cannot seem to learn, even with the help of guide books. I know what a blue jay is, and a robin, but that’s about it. I’m hoping to get better educated though.

Once, while researching the neighborhood around Oakland & Berkeley’s Alvarado Road (we had a listing on West View, a beautiful house with a creek and trees and many birds), I found a free bird guide. Actually, it’s a local wildlife guide, not just birds, but also animals such as deer and racoons, as well as butterflies, all of which have been seen in that neighborhood. This small, in-color illustrated guide is offered free to anyone who would like to print it out by the author, Kay Loughman. www.nhwildlife.net.

Ms. Loughman, a nature enthusiast and photographer, lives in the hills on the Oakland-Berkeley border. Because all the birds shown live in this area, as opposed to Colorado or Maine, I’ll be able to figure out which ones I’m seeing. I think I saw a Golden-crowned Sparrow today!

I built my own bird nest. I recommend it. Very fun and quite pretty. It’s sitting on the narrow window sill over my kitchen sink where I look at it several times a day. I didn’t start out with the idea of building a nest. I was just walking around the garden enjoying the day and I began to pick up fine little branches, dropped there during recent small-tree pruning.

I held them loosely in my hand admiring the bumps barely visible along each branch, the starts of leaf buds. The twigs stuck every which way and with them were a few skeletonized leaves and a few hairs of dried grass. It began to look to me like a bird’s nest. When I had a fat little bundle, I brought it inside and tied a piece of string around the middle.

I set the nest in the window sill with a couple of cute toy birds. Then a few days later, in another garden, I came across a few feathers from a black and white bird. I put the feathers in my pocket and brought them to the nest.

It’s quite a scene. At Easter, I had eggs and flowers too.

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