Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Backyard Birding Has It’s Drama
July 29, 2017
By Steve Grinley
I often write about my birding adventures afield, and my travel to new locations to watch birds. But the excitement and enjoyment of birds can be found right at home, right in your backyard. The flash of yellow from the male goldfinches at the thistle feeder or occasional visits by orioles and catbirds at jelly feeders are enjoyed by many backyard birders. Sometimes there is the drama of a hawk swooping by to try to pluck a bird off the feeders. Watching the summer birds bring their fledgling young to the feeders or bird bath is a thrill described by many customers.
Doug Chickering of Groveland shared with us some excitement in his back yard several years ago, which he referred to as “the battle of the titans”, and I share it with you again today:
“As soon as the heat died down, and as soon as the afternoon shadows made their way across Lois’ deck we carried our binoculars out to the deck chairs and sat back in the languid late afternoon, taking in the cool dying of the day and watching the bird activity around the feeders and at the edges of the yard. One of our favorite summer pastimes. It was the usual activity; with the House Sparrows plunging down into the hanging feeder after they got used to our presence; the Chickadee flying in at regular intervals to grab a seed and scamper back to the redbud tree. There were visiting Chipping Sparrows and Cardinals, the ubiquitous Goldfinches at the thistle sock and even a couple of Tree Swallows high over head.
“Then my eye caught something at the edge. It was one of those images flick past the eye and awaken your senses. I saw a small bird; something like a Chickadee, flying from the redbud to the fence to the right. Just a passing phantom of an image. Not something unusual. What was unusual was that this small bird seemed to be pursued by a smaller creature My initial impression, improbable as it seemed, was it might be a dragonfly. Dragonfly chases bird? Talk about man bites dog. I looked over to the area where they disappeared, watched for a few fruitless minutes and then turned my attention back to the yard and forgot about it.
“Some time later; maybe 20 minutes – maybe five, I saw a streaking little gray bird surge across the yard and into the ash trees about 30 feet away. This was a small bird, no bigger than a Chickadee and this one was definitely being chased by something smaller. Not a dragonfly but a Hummingbird. The fugitive stopped and perched behind some ash berries and then began to move around. It was then that I could see it well and saw that it was a Gnatcatcher. Its pursuer followed right after it, driving it to seek refuge behind another bunch of ash berries. Here the Hummingbird flew back and forth in short bursts, occasionally probing to get a shot at the un-offending and clearly distraught Gnatcatcher. I can’t imagine what transgression on the part of the Gnatcatcher caused this outburst of aggression, but the Hummer was out for a fight. He danced before the Gnatcatcher like a snazzy lightweight, challenging the unfortunate bird to come out of hiding and settle this honorably.
“C’mon, c’mon put ‘em up.’ The Gnatcatcher would have none of it.
“I’ve seen Hummingbirds do this before. In fact, I once watched in amazement as a male Hummer went at a thoroughly baffled Hairy woodpecker and actually gave a few painful stabs before the Woodpecker disappeared as fast as he could. In fact, with the Hummingbirds reputation, his assault of this poor Gnatcatcher made him appear a bully. And to add to the insult, it was a female Hummingbird.
“Fortunately she eventually cooled down, lost interest and sped off. The Gnatcatcher waited a few seconds, determining that the coast was clear before he finally took off as well. You never can predict what your going to see even in when birding casually.”
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