Every spring I know less about what I am seeing, or, the ratio between what I know and what I am seeing is smaller. I had not before realized the mortality rate among crows. A crow could live 20 years and more, but few seem to survive past two years. These pictures I took last week at breakfast indicate one reason why, but it is one of the less common reasons. At least fifty crows were mobbing an eagle that had one of theirs in its claws.
We had fewer crows than usual over the winter, and this spring there are only three I recognize. Washcrow and Her are not breeding this year, but they visit frequently, and spend time sitting companionably, apparently watching the two of us sitting companionably. I have seen Washcrow for 4 years now, since he was brought to our feeder as a fledgling. One of last year's young -- I can't tell if it is Wow or Futhark -- talks to us frequently. A handsome gleaming male I do not recognize comes to the feeder to collect food for his mate -- he will feed her for the three weeks of brooding, and then for the 5+ weeks until the young fledge.
There is great difficulty defending the crow feeder from the seagull, and the ground-feeding birds are at great risk from the neighbor's cat which usually lurks under our car. The Oregon juncos, normally ground feeders, have learned to graze at the squirrel and crow feeders, so they are safe. Sometimes ground means "ground," and sometimes ground means "flat" instead of "perch."
The raccoons discovered the crow feeder last year – it is on the porch outside my bedroom – so I have been leaving cracked corn and peanuts in shells for them. They come irregularly. There is a beautiful male, a very shy female with a tiny face, a pair of twins, a female with two young. Sometimes at night, in downtown Washington DC, and park-side Seattle, there is a horrible squealing shrieking noise. I identified that sound long ago as the sound of something being eaten, and would lie in bed feeling miserable when I heard it. Recently I discovered it is the sound made at the encounter of two raccoons who have not been previously introduced, and that it need not involve violence at all, though I think two were fighting Tuesday night. I have also learned that raccoons are not particularly afraid of humans, or of us, and if one starts to leave from anxiety, s/he can be persuaded back: the soothing tones you use for babies and pets are equally successful with raccoons.
We keep a steady supply of black-capped chickadees who tell us when the feeder needs refilling, or when we are in the wrong area of the yard. There is a nest in the bathroom window frame, and in summer I can lie in the tub and listen to little scratchings and chirps. Chickadees can live up to 12 years, and I don't know if the same chickadees come back to the window frame year after year, or if we have had dozens of residents since the house was built in 1905.
From 4 in the morning until after supper, the yard is full of small fragments of music. The birds are calling while the owls are still out, while I am talking to the raccoons. When the sun is up the sounds give the sense of showers of glitter. "Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children." I don't recognize all the calls, but we -- and the neighbors and the park --have robins and house finches and varied thrushes, song sparrows, Townsend's warblers, wrens, juncos, and now bush tits. The tits were absent all winter, but now they are back with dozens of babies, so small they look as if you could grab a dozen at a time. There are so many finger-sized pine siskins that the feeders have to be refilled every second day.
We have made a good start on a small plantation of meleagris where it can be admired from the sidewalk, and a hellebore garden in the damp under the nut tree in back. I have become enthralled with hellebores.
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner. Through the first gate,
Into our first world, shall we follow
The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
T.S.E. "Burnt Norton."