Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The finches push back

It's Veterans Day. And as a slave to the state, I have the day off.

I actually love this holiday. Not everyone gets the day off, so when Veterans Day falls on a week day, you can get all kinds of things done -- like shopping at Fred Meyers and getting a hair cut -- without a crush of people around you or ahead of you in the appointment book.

It's also a day I set aside to make Johnny's Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs. This is not a difficult recipe, but it does require about five hours of your day, starting with its assemblage and concluding with 4 hours of fragrant simmering. It is worth every nanosecond. And on the stove as I write.

Since the recipe involves making, shaping and browning about 8 zillion meatballs, this gives me plenty of time to stand at the kitchen window and watch life unfold around the birdfeeders.

Today started normally enough with our shameless flock of sparrows dominating anything and everything edible. A relative newcomer to our garden -- a house finch -- appeared in all his scarlet glory but was raucously rebuffed by a team of these incorrigibles. Really. Sparrows are the most impossible, yet entertaining, birds.

Grrrrrr. Note to self 1: Must learn how to get rid of sparrows. Note to self 2: Ha ha ha ha ha.

Next on the scene: Our regular little male goldfinch appears, who I will call Leonardo for the sake of the story about to unfold . He tries politely -- several times -- to grab a ride on one of the nyjer seed socks only to be firmly dismissed by the sparrows.

Grrrrrr. Note to self 3: Must learn how to get rid of sparrows. Note to self 4: Ha ha ha ha ha.

Leonardo retreats to a branch, calmly surveying the ongoing sparrow orgy -- somewhat sadly, but (I have to admit ) with a bit of calculation in his beady little eyes. Exit Leonardo.

What happens next becomes an unexpected, but epic, avian version of "The Gangs of New York." Leonardo returns about 15 minutes later -- with about 6 to 8 of male goldfinch ganstas in tow. The most we've ever seen in our backyard. They flock to the seed socks, staking their culinary claim in defiance of the sparrows. The sparrows respond, wings beating furiously, pecking madly at any seed sock interloper.

The finches push back -- giving as good as they get. And then, as if some magical switch was flipped, the melee stops. Suddenly, sparrow and finch, in harmony, go back to the most important business of the day -- feeding. Together. Sharing seed socks. Making room for each other. Playing well in the proverbial birdfeeder sandbox.

Damn. Maybe the surge COULD work. If executed by goldfinches.

Later, satiated with nyjer seed and the satisfaction of peaceful coexistence, the sparrows and goldfinches depart for their respective nests and perches.

And once assured the coast was clear, our faintly perplexed house finch, in all his scarlet glory, returned for a quiet afternoon snack.

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