From Our Backyard, A Monthly Column Written by Charles


Orchard Oriole above.

From Our Backyard

     I dawdled along on my morning perambulation to study the burgeoning buds of spring on the barren branches of forgotten winter. Trees offer green hopes of food, shelter, and habitat for birds. They produce blossoms for pollinators and Orioles, leaves for hungry caterpillars, fallen leaf litter for hibernating Wood Frogs and Firefly larva and nesting sites for Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, and Wood Thrush. I bring up the importance of trees because they are still Once-lers among us. Wherever I travel, housing developers and homeowners are removing stalwart trees and stately wooded lots and they’re not making Thneeds out of them, just mulch. Some parties are removing trees due to invasive insects like the Emerald Ash Borer or like me, are battling against non-native trees like Bradford Pears and the Tree of Heaven. Unfortunately most people are remaking their land parcels into a manicured vision of nature. Pitiful green spaces with nary a thought to inviting wildlife in. Everything in order and in its’ place.

      A neighbor once asked to buy our small woodlot. Of course I said no, knowing he was looking at it through different lenses then I. He saw an opportunity to carve a home site among the beech, oak, and hickories. I know our woods to already be a home for nesting birds and a foraging place for wildlife. In addition, it is a small patch of sanctuary for me to contemplate and marvel at the slow growing giants that make up our wooded knoll. When I find a tiny oak I’ll mark the sapling and place a cage around it so as to memorize its location and protect it from both lawn mower and deer. Hopefully they will grow long after I’m gone like the majestic red oaks on the old property line. These mighty trees were acorns over 125 years ago. They bear witness to more seasons than I ever will. 

     Pileated Woodpeckers drum a steady staccato on a fallen snag and the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers are nesting in the broken stubble of a dying tree. The Squirrels are gathering old leaves for nests. Soon I’ll spy the House Wrens collecting twigs and filling empty gourds. Upon entering the woods I can hear clear songs of the Veery, Wood Thrush, and Ovenbird. Bluebirds are laying eggs in two of our nest boxes and as of yet those erratic Tree Swallows have not settled down. Purple Martins happily chortle after their long journey from Brazil. We’ve seen Orchard and Baltimore Orioles nibbling at the blossoming crabapple flowers for nectar. The Catbirds are gorging on the orange halves we set out. The diminutive Chipping Sparrows are eating from the feeders and any day now I expect to see Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings. By providing bird food in the spring you get the chance to observe these colorful migrants as the pass through. You can put your Hummingbird feeder up now as there has been a few sightings. Those flashy Goldfinches come in numbers of 8-10 birds and they seem to prefer the sunflower chips in the No-Mess blend as opposed to the Nyjer in the finch feeder. Cardinals and Bluebirds are pecking at our windows in a futile defense of nesting grounds. They see their reflection and feel it's an interloper so they attack their own reflection. You can use a soapy solution of dish soap and water and coat the outside of the window. Let it dry to a film. Hopefully that will discourage they 5am tapping. Red Robins promenade across the greening lawn. Occasionally there’s a Northern Flicker in the group searching for ants and grubs. With nesting season upon us, you can be assured that the birds you see at your feeders are probably nesting nearby. Foods like bird seed, suet, nuts, and Bark Butter products are beneficial to busy parents.

     Every part of a tree is useful. Our ancestors found a use for tree bark in the tanning of skins, the sap, in Maple syrup, and the lumber for housing and furniture. And, for centuries settlers needed wood for cooking and heat. Heck they gobbled up a whole continent of old growth trees for those uses and agriculture. I discovered a new source of water for the birds. Trees. 15 feet up a tree, is a bole. A hole/bowl in the tree. The rain fills it with water. So far I’ve seen 8 different species of birds and both the gray and red squirrel poking into the bole for a sip of water. It took brave conservationists and great acts to preserve sections of our country for future generations

    I drove down a local road last week and was reminded of the Lorax. The homeowner, for reasons unknown, had all the trees on his property removed. Where tall trees stood and shadows reigned was a wasteland of stumps and harsh sunlight. I wanted to pull over and recite the Lorax’s speech. Alas, I don’t think anyone would listen. Unless someone like you plants a tree or starts a pollinator garden, nothing is going to get better. Unless you make everyday Earth Day. Unless.

Happy Birding, Charles Shattuck

May 2022