The pretty good books of Susan Larson

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How to Charm the Birds out of the Trees

Source: How to Charm the Birds out of the Trees


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How to Charm the Birds out of the Trees

Yesterday I got about a dozen hits; the gang showed up all at once, yelling and swearing and threatening each other. Today, they ignore me. I stand for thirty minutes in the backyard, motionless as a post, whistling softly and looking modestly at the ground. Nada.

Then there is a rattle of feathers, and tiny claws grip my thumb. A chickadee swipes a piece of peanut off my palm, squeaks, and takes off. A titmouse takes his place, eats a peanut and nips my hand to see if it might be tasty. She grabs another nut, flips her wings, and heads for the woods to dine on it in private, or stash it for later.

I am totally, helplessly enchanted. The birds have decided I am good people.

“My” backyard birds have always been pretty casual around me, eating at the feeder as I puttered in the garden or read in the Adirondack chair. But of course, like all biophiliacs, I wanted to touch them, or at least I wanted them to touch me. So I decided to make the effort to lure them onto my hand.

There are a number of ways bird-lovers accomplish this trick, but the principles remain the same. Put some birdie treats, something extra good like pecans or peanuts, on your feeder and stand around at a discreet distance.

Wear sunglasses (no wild animal likes to be stared at, it’s very threatening, and if you roll your naked eyes to look at them the scream EEEEEK and fly away). Wear comfy shoes. This takes a while.

Even though they figure out pretty quickly that you and the goodies arrive together, eating in your company is a big step for a little bird. Shorten the distance between you tactfully, retreating if necessary. When they are happily fluttering around your head, take the treats off the feeder, put them in your hand, arrange your hand so it touches the feeder and wait for the bravest bird- a chickadee probably- to take the plunge. Last step, remove the feeder and offer the goodies.

You will hear the birds vocalizing and figure out what they are saying. There is the general alarm-call, “chicka-deedeedeedeedee.” Five ‘dees’ indicate your high dangerousness quotient, and will lesson in number as the bird decides you are harmless, until you rate only a “chick” as the bird weighs and risks and benefits giving itself encouragement to hop onto your palm.

In my imagination, the bird working himself up to do it is saying “shit, shit, shit!”

The little squeak they make when they have actually done it means “Yippee!” And the angry chickadee ‘gargle’ is a curse flung at other birds: “My turn, bitch, back off!”

I just love being fought over…

Nuthatches alight on my hand also, making their nasal mutterings, “meh, meh, meh.” I am hoping that I will get woodpeckers, who make a sound like a sneeze. Perhaps I can entice some other birds too, although the resident cardinals and finches are very shy. My idea of heaven is a Carolina Wren- that tiny russet-colored droplet of pure energy- taking peanuts from my hand. But anybird will do; it’s a thrill to have them sit on me, and an honor to be their pet.