Backyard wildlife

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Seeler

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Every so often I see members of WC2, and former members who now post on Facebook, posting about the birds or other animals that visit their yards.

I wrote this for my writing group, I thought you might also enjoy it.

I call it Backyard Visitors.

Almost 50 years ago, shortly after we moved into our home in a relatively new housing development at the age of the city, a big Moose walked through our backyard tramping our garden and taking down the neighbour’s clothesline with his spreading antlers. We haven’t seen any animals that large since that time; but we do see wildlife at various times: raccoons, skunks, groundhogs, squirrels (both grey and red), and birds. When our granddaughter’s cat visits for a few days, we find the evidence that mice are plentiful in the vicinity.

The wildlife we are most interested in watching are the birds and we try to get them close enough so that I can identify them even with my myopic vision. We’ve tried birdfeeders at the corner of our deck outside our kitchen window. We have attracted various birds through the winter and early spring when we kept it full of seed but this became impossible when the gray squirrels founded it. At first we considered them amusing, but soon realized they were keeping the birds away while they gobbled up the seeds. We tried various birdfeeders and do-it-yourself methods to try to keep them from the feeder.

Move the feeder, putting it further away from the deck railing didn’t work. We found out how far squirrels can jump. Hang it higher in the tree and they drop down on top. Hang it further away on the clothesline and they run along the wire to reach it. My husband tried all sorts of ways to block them, using tin foil plates or large plastic pop bottles modified in various ways, and amused himself watching the squirrels figure out how to get around them. Finally I bought a ‘squirrel proof’ feeder and hung it on the hook of the metal post 2 feet above the deck railing. Three days later I posted a picture of a squirrel hanging upside down from the roof of the feeder helping himself to the seeds. We laughed.

Last fall I bought another “squirrel proof” feeder. This one was big, heavy, guaranteed, and expensive! We put it up and waited. It didn’t take long for the first squirrel to find it. We watched while that squirrel worked for several hours, going from opening to opening, only to have them close just as he tried to get a bite. Everything he tried resulted in failure. Eventually we saw him drop to the rail, turn his back to the feeder, shake his tail in anger and frustration, and scamper away. Over the next few days other squirrels tried their best but none were successful. Eventually they gave up and contented themselves eating whatever seeds the birds dropped, and the breadcrumbs we put out for them.

Through the winter we enjoyed visits from chickadees, juncos, blue jays, cardinals, red poles, finches, and Northern flickers. We’ve even had a downy woodpecker dropping by. In the spring came on we’ve been visited by Cedar waxwings, goldfinches, various types of sparrows, mourning doves. We also have larger birds: robins, grackles, and crows. Fortunately the crows are too big and heavy to perch on the feeder so they don’t stay around long.

We were puzzled recently by how quickly the seeds were disappearing from the feeder. We would fill it in the morning and watch the birds coming and going throughout the day, and the next morning it would be nearly empty. Repeat the process; find it empty again. Then one evening my husband heard a noise outside and looked out to see a young raccoon sitting on the deck rail and reaching up to the feeder to poke his little snout in an opening and get a mouthful of seeds, spilling as many as he ate. We watched in silence for a few minutes. My husband opened the door to try for a picture, and at the sound that little raccoon was gone. Perhaps the noise we made opening the door and talking before we went back inside was enough to make him nervous because he has not returned.

Now, as spring turns into summer, it’s time to stop filling the feeder and to concentrate our birdwatching to the hummingbird feeder in the front yard.

We had our problems with it too. Anytime we hung from a branch of our big maple tree inside the picture window, the ants would soon find their way to it, climbing up the trunk of the maple, out on the correct branch, and down the wire, to the feeder showing more intelligence than I would imagine those little insects could have. I tried various methods to block them but, with determination, they found ways to overcome them, to the extent of walking over the dead bodies of the companions caught by sticky tape. Hummingbirds won’t come near a feeder with ants around it. The solution wants to get a feeder that attaches to the front window with suction cups.

Most years we have a male and female pair. This year we seem to only have the female regularly, with a second female coming occasionally. I don’t know it’s the same female we’ve seen in previous years or what may have happened to the male.

It’s interesting to watch birds year-round, depending on the season.
 

BetteTheRed

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Another solution to ant problem in hummingbird feeder? An ant moat. It puts a body of water between the ants and the nectar, absolutely fool-proof as long as you keep the moat full of water. I buy them from Lee Valley, as my local hardware store doesn't carry them; apparently a local bird place (feeders and seed) does, but haven't tried them. Around here, I have lot of squirrels and chipmunks in the front (dog keeps most wildlife out of backyard), enough trees that I have a lot of birds nesting/squawking-singing (feeders irregular; have yet to find a really satisfactory spot where I can see them, the dog won't disturb them, and the cat's occasional forays outside won't kill them). We have a local skunk or two; they get the dog once or twice every summer. Lots of mice; as evidenced by nibbled seed packets, nests in odd places, etc. Nothing much bigger, although there's a fox den just a kilometre from me on the Simcoe Loop Rail Trail.
 

Luce NDs

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Imagine the gross mentality of critters that can put thoughts together ... in an area where humans seem to scatter the aforesaid ... almost a floatable conception!
 

Mendalla

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My current backyard menagerie is pretty standard stuff. Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks on the ground (or in the trees) with periodic signs or sightings of skunks and coons. Bird-wise, we've got robins, red-wing blackbirds, chickadees, grackles, crows, blue jays, cardinals, goldfinches, pigeons, and who knows what else. I'm not much of a birder, really.

We apparently did have deer visit once, or so a neighbour told us. They came by while we were on vacation so we missed them ourselves.

The there's the mystery of the half-a-rabbit. One morning I awoke to find one of our bunnies had lost his front quarters. No idea what did it. Predator wise, leaving aside dogs and cats of which there aren't many that are loose, there's coyotes in the nearby ravine, though I've never seen any other evidence of them coming into our neighbourhood, and hawks. Should be owls, too, I guess but they tend to eat smaller game AFAIK. Gave it a suitable funeral in the back flower bed.
 

BetteTheRed

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I had a lab and a Siamese cat work together once to kill a fair sized jackrabbit on our rural property (many years ago, when I was first married). They split it, never found the back half; cat tried to sneak the front half into the house. We bordered bush lots, and the house was far enough back from the road that well-behaved critters could more or less run free when someone was home.
 

Mendalla

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I had a lab and a Siamese cat work together once to kill a fair sized jackrabbit on our rural property (many years ago, when I was first married). They split it, never found the back half; cat tried to sneak the front half into the house. We bordered bush lots, and the house was far enough back from the road that well-behaved critters could more or less run free when someone was home.
Oh, I wouldn't rule out domestic animals, however they don't seem any more likely than a wild predator. We've had the odd feline visitor but almost every yard around us is fenced and people don't let their dogs run loose for the most part.

I did consider aliens, but I've never heard of "rabbit mutilations". :alien:
 

GO3838

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I love watching my backyard 'suburban jungle" as well.

It's a busy as Times Square. I have multiple feeders, but I keep filling them, and whoever gets it, gets it. I have cardinals, blue jays, goldfinches, peleated woodpeckers, chickadees, and pigeons. Black squirrels, a red squirrel, and a chipmunk - it's a real free-for-all. I'd say my backyard feeders are as inclusive as the United Church strives to be - welcoming to all, whether bird or rodent. Whether cute or a pest. Whether beautiful or plain - all are welcome to my backyard feast. (And many neighborhood cats come and watch as well. And some cats are doing more than watching, as indicated by the occasional pile of feathers near a feeder.) But the cats are great are keeping the mice and rats away from the feeders.)

It's amazing to me how the animals all pick different times to come, so no one seems to be "pushed out." The shy birds come at the same time each day when the squirrels are not around, and the feisty birds will push and shove the squirrels right back. I put out peanuts and dried corn just for the rodents, but plenty of birds will take peanuts and corn, too.
 

KayTheCurler

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I wrote this many years ago and was amazed to find it!

Hi all - to my delight and joy I saw the very first swallow of Spring
yesterday morning. The robins have been back for a while, along with
various other migrants. Humming birds usually take a little longer to
grace us with their colourful aerobatics and foolish sounding squeaks of
aggression. Today I'll set out some tempting nectar to try to induce
some of these little jewels to show themselves.

My first swallow this year was one of those absolutely fantastic tree
swallows, with a rich green back that shimmered in the sunlight. Soon
the yard was alive with its mates, magically migrating in, swooping and
diving while doing their usual work of gobbling up bugs of various
kinds. Next I spotted some dowdier coloured bank swallows joining in
the aerial dance, followed by the somewhat brighter dressed cliff
swallows with their square black caps. By afternoon some blue backed,
orange fronted barn swallows were jetting around too.

This morning, to my utter amazement, I spotted seventeen pairs
frantically nesting within view of the house. Now my task is to think
of a way to discourage the cliff swallows from nest building right above
the back door. Even bird lovers like us find ourselves feeling a trifle
put-out when a bird dumps on us as we leave for town in clean clothes!

Spring time greetings from Hazel - who watched the mating dance of a
pair of sandhill cranes earlier today. Maybe I should be drinking out of
my saucer because my cup runneth over!
 

Waterfall

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Neighbours full grown cat was intimidated by a large crow as big as he was......quite a site watching the cat being chased by a bird.
 

Mendalla

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Neighbours full grown cat was intimidated by a large crow as big as he was......quite a site watching the cat being chased by a bird.
Crows and their cousins ravens can be rather intimidating. And they are, by bird standards, quite smart to boot. A crow taking on a cat doesn't surprise me that much.
 

ChemGal

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Things are fairly limited in our yard. Birds - mostly small, fairly muted colours although the occasional colourful one will show up and then for larger there are robins, magpies (more than I would prefer), seagulls especially on garbage day and I think the occasional crow although they tend not to hang out long enough for me to confirm it's not a dark magpie.

Other animals - mice, rabbits (easy to keep out if the gate is shut), cats. Most of the cats I haven't had an issue with, there is one who I think is a pretty good mouser and I've only noticed has interest in the garden in the winter, probably because it saw a mouse or something. It looks well taken care of and uses the fences as a walkway, seems to be on a schedule. It likes people though and the neighbours have had it hanging out in their yard, it's not microchipped and no one responds to a note. It was a bit of a problem this year when we had a bunch of stuff out, just checking out lots of things and I had stuff like fertilizer and bone meal out - probably not the healthiest for the cat, plus I don't want it touching things that I handle, creating allergy issues. I think I saw it with a bird, I know the neighbours wouldn't be happy about that. I've noticed a few other cats in the backyard this year and they seem to be less well behaved when it comes to he garden. So far not often, but I might need to add in some deterrents. I wish more people would pay attention to the bylaws when it comes to their cats.

Animals in the area, but not seen right here - geese, ducks, muskrats, coyotes, skunks, groundhogs and I know someone who found a lizard. Squirrels are around, but very specific areas with more mature trees, they don't tend to be around yards here.

Raccoons apparently exist in Alberta, but I have never seen one here, and never heard of one being an issue for a homeowner in province..
 

Mendalla

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(easy to keep out if the gate is shut)
Really? Around here, it just take a small gap under the fence and they can widen it to get through. I don't have a gate but my neighbours who do have just as many.
 

Seeler

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I wrote this many years ago and was amazed to find it!

Hi all - to my delight and joy I saw the very first swallow of Spring
yesterday morning. The robins have been back for a while, along with
various other migrants. Humming birds usually take a little longer to
grace us with their colourful aerobatics and foolish sounding squeaks of
aggression. Today I'll set out some tempting nectar to try to induce
some of these little jewels to show themselves.

My first swallow this year was one of those absolutely fantastic tree
swallows, with a rich green back that shimmered in the sunlight. Soon
the yard was alive with its mates, magically migrating in, swooping and
diving while doing their usual work of gobbling up bugs of various
kinds. Next I spotted some dowdier coloured bank swallows joining in
the aerial dance, followed by the somewhat brighter dressed cliff
swallows with their square black caps. By afternoon some blue backed,
orange fronted barn swallows were jetting around too.

This morning, to my utter amazement, I spotted seventeen pairs
frantically nesting within view of the house. Now my task is to think
of a way to discourage the cliff swallows from nest building right above
the back door. Even bird lovers like us find ourselves feeling a trifle
put-out when a bird dumps on us as we leave for town in clean clothes!

Spring time greetings from Hazel - who watched the mating dance of a
pair of sandhill cranes earlier today. Maybe I should be drinking out of
my saucer because my cup runneth over!
Beautifully written, Kay. You are very observant and know your birds. I am very nearsighted and had a difficult time seeing the small differences that distinguish one bird from another of the same species. For me to really try to identify them, they have to be up close, colourful and still.
Having the birdfeeders just outside the windows helps.

Do you still have swallows? Here they seem to be rare, while at one time they were plentiful. My father put up a birdhouse and attracted a family of purple Martins that return year after year as I grew up. That's one of the best memories of my childhood – watching purple Martins dip and dive as they chased mosquitoes. Now any type of swallows is seldom seen.

.
 

ChemGal

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Really? Around here, it just take a small gap under the fence and they can widen it to get through. I don't have a gate but my neighbours who do have just as many.
They get into my parents yard through the fence, I think the type of fencing here helps, there's a board along the bottom. There haven't been that many shifts yet to create gaps. Our fence also boarders other's yards on all sides, with the exception of the small portion to the front, that helps too. My parents fence borders an alley on 2 sides, and there's a step down from the yard to the alley.
This style:
2692

vs.
2693
Without the stone though, just wood.
 

ChemGal

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Beautifully written, Kay. You are very observant and know your birds. I am very nearsighted and had a difficult time seeing the small differences that distinguish one bird from another of the same species. For me to really try to identify them, they have to be up close, colourful and still.
Having the birdfeeders just outside the windows helps.

Do you still have swallows? Here they seem to be rare, while at one time they were plentiful. My father put up a birdhouse and attracted a family of purple Martins that return year after year as I grew up. That's one of the best memories of my childhood – watching purple Martins dip and dive as they chased mosquitoes. Now any type of swallows is seldom seen.

.
I find it's also difficult to identify birds, bees, etc. as much of the information isn't local.
For example, I regularly see a thing going around about lady beetles (I just call them lady bugs) going around on some gardening groups, but it's UK based, so not all the useful for what we have here.
 

KayTheCurler

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Beautifully written, Kay. You are very observant and know your birds. I am very nearsighted and had a difficult time seeing the small differences that distinguish one bird from another of the same species. For me to really try to identify them, they have to be up close, colourful and still.
Having the birdfeeders just outside the windows helps.

Do you still have swallows? Here they seem to be rare, while at one time they were plentiful. My father put up a birdhouse and attracted a family of purple Martins that return year after year as I grew up. That's one of the best memories of my childhood – watching purple Martins dip and dive as they chased mosquitoes. Now any type of swallows is seldom seen.

.
Thanks for the kind words Seeler. I too struggle to identify some birds as my eyesight worsens. Never have been good at the ones that are very similar, especially the ones I call LBJ's (little brown jobs).

We have feeders, a water spot, nesting material and houses on offer around the yard. Just spotted a nesting wren today. Swallows are scarce so far this year. There is a pair nesting next door but we usually have a bout half a dozen pairs tweeting around. No purple martins - we never managed to attract them to the farm either.
 

KayTheCurler

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Most of our wildlife is birds. We see an occasional stray cat and deer graze in the park across the street. A lot different from living in the country were we saw all the wildlife that lives in the area, except for the big cats. We had moose, elk, deer, bear, wolves, coyotes, foxes, skunks, raccoons, porcupines, weasels, beaver and various little rodents..

Our town birds include ravens, crows, magpies, a range of finches and sparrows, downy and hairy woodpeckers, flickers, hummers, juncos, goldfinches, redpolls, waxwings etc...
 

BetteTheRed

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We see lots of crows, and I didn't think I'd seen a raven down here, but bird-watching neighbour is pretty sure we have one nesting pair (they're bigger, don't hang out in murders, but solo or mated pair, and they don't "caw") in a large oak around the corner from us.

I love magpies, and just miss them here. They are my favorite birds, in a nuisance-y, cheeky way.
 
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