The Western Scrub Jay
This weekend, after a five-year hiatus, I restored one of my backyard bird feeders. San Diego can’t support an abundance of birds naturally: it’s near-desertic (in rain, not in temperature), so food is scarce. Because I am insanely in love with all birds, as you know, for years I fed them with three giant seed feeders, suet, and red syrup for the hummers. Because I fed them what they truly like, black oil sunflower seeds, they didn’t just stop by for a visit, they moved in. The population built up, starting with sparrows and finches, then with larger birds like the fun-to-watch bullies of the back yard, scrub jays. Over time, a full avian ecology was going in my back yard. Generations of jays and others would nest around my house. Eventually, the raptors arrived. It was not at all unusual to spot peregrine falcons eying my back yard as if it were a restaurant while red-tailed hawks swooped in for lunch. Every January or February, mallards still swim in my little pond for a few weeks, their hind ends and feet pointing high in the air with the rest of them nibbling under water. I’ve seen no ducklings yet, but I keep hoping. Once in a while, a fleet of crows sweeps in like fighter jets, screaming and fighting and chasing all the other birds away. I loved it.
A Norway Rat
But then there was the autologous transplant in 2005, which for a while left me too weak to feed them myself. Also, what birds like to eat, so do the rats (all part of the ecology, alas). Although I had rat preventers on the lower-floor feeders, birds are so messy that much of their food ends up on the ground. Hence the rats. It became so bad that if, about an hour before sunset, I shook the large ficus benjamina by my back door, a half-dozen rats would jump onto the ground and scurry away. In time, they found a way to nest in my attic, which, although large, is a chore for me to get into. Countless times I had to carry a big ladder up the stairs, dislodge the ceiling door, and set the traps with a combination of bacon and peanut butter (after removing the dead rats, of course). Ewww!
So I stopped the feedings, and, in a couple of years, my back yard reverted to its original state (i.e., few birds, all small, no rats).
This weekend, though, I couldn’t stand it any longer: I needed birds! The sliding doors of my upstairs bedroom open onto a small deck which is seldom used (well, it is fun to put a telescope up there and watch the neighbors hurriedly close their blinds). Today, the first full day of good weather, the birds found the feeder. At the moment there are twelve of them split evenly between the feeder itself and the deck beneath it. Just sparrows and finches so far, but the crowd is building. I’ll let you know when the first jay arrives, and when the first hawk decides to eat him.