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A Conversation at the Water Cooler

I like to spend time at my bird baths occasionally just to listen to what the birds are saying--latest rumors, how things have gone with the breeding season this year, who’s here for the winter, who has left, any complaints about bird seed, repairs needed on nesting boxes--stuff like that. The birds are pretty vocal generally unless something unusual happens.

I was refilling my largest bird bath recently and waited until, one-by-one, the birds came down to visit. The Acorn Woodpecker was the first to arrive followed in descending order of boldest to meekest. Steller’s Jay, Oak Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Oregon Junco, House Finch, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Lesser Goldfinch, and, finally, the Mourning Dove. "Hey," I said, looking around. "Where’s the Anna’s Hummingbird?" "Oh," the chickadee said. "He’s busy defending his feeder right now. Seems we have another hummer hanging around. He doesn’t want him to find the feeder unguarded. He told me I could represent him if need be." "Good," I said relieved. "I was worried something had happened to him." Just then a furry brown head appeared over the edge to take a drink. It was a rat. "You know, this is a bird bath," said the jay. "Not a rodent bar." "Oh, shut your pie hole," the brazen rat said. "I’ll just be a moment."

Then, out of nowhere a Cooper’s Hawk swooped down and landed on the edge of the bath and—whoosh--the birds and rat all took off in a huge panic. "Whoa!" I said to the hawk shaking my hair back into place. "Did you have to scare everyone with a sudden appearance like that?" "What sudden appearance?" he said with just the hint of a smile. "I can’t help if everyone is deathly afraid of me. I just stopped by for a quick drink." "Well," I said. "We were having a pleasant conversation until you showed up. You might want to work on your approach a bit." Slowly and cautiously the birds and the rat began to return to the bath and all was calm once again. "Actually, I have been working on my approach," he said matter-of-fact. "I’m going to try something new." "Great!" I said. "What is it?" "I can’t tell you right now. It’s still a work in progress," he said. "I’ll let you know when it’s been perfected."

The hawk made another sudden move to preen his tail feathers and—whoosh—all the birds and the rat took off like lightning knocking me completely over this time. "Can you not do that?" I yelled, getting up and brushing myself off. "Oh, sorry," he said, his blue-gray shoulders shaking with laughter. "Maybe I can make you all feel more at ease. I just ate, so you really don’t have anything to worry about. We hawks only need to feed once a day or every other day, depending on the size of the meal. Our main food source is birds and rodents." The birds nervously looked back and forth at each other out of the corner of their eyes and the Mourning Dove began to shake. The rat looked unimpressed. "So…you just ate, then?" asked the dove timidly. "Yes," the hawk replied. "Noneed to worry." A moment later the hawk made sort of a hacking sound. He hacked again and again and, finally, coughed up a yellow feather. As it slowly drifted to the ground all the birds froze and looked at each other in horror, especially the goldf inch. Then—whoosh—they all panicked and took off. "Hey!" I said. "We talked about this." "Okay, okay," replied the hawk, holding his gray wings out defensively. "I really am working on a new approach, I romise." The birds and the rat returned to the bath quicker this time, less afraid and feeling more comfortable.

"There’s not much of a body under that big pile of feathers. You think you’re so ferocious, but without those feathers you’d be about the size of, well, me." The hawk stared expressionless at the rat for a few moments with his piercing red eyes before calmly responding. "You might be confusing me with my cousin the Sharp-shinned Hawk. They’re smaller than us Cooper’s, but they look almost identical in plumage. Our tails have a more rounded look and we have a dark "cap" on our heads. Do you see this beak? This is not a seed cracking beak. Nor is it a beak for catching small flying insects. It is specifically designed for ripping and tearing meat. These talons? They’re designed for holding prey in a death grip. My short wings are incredibly strong allowing me to plow through trees and shrubs after prey. My mate is about a third larger than I am. During the breeding season she spends most of her time incubating eggs and defending our nest. I have a smaller body for navigating through brush after fast moving prey to bring back food for her and our young. Not sure if that’s really why we’re different, but that’s what I’m going with. Either way, we’re freaking stone cold killers." Everyone stopped breathing. I could feel a collective shiver at the bird bath. "O—kay," I said. "THAT is not helping your new approach…at all." "What?" the hawk said feigning innocence. "Oh, right. New approach. New approach, it is then."

The hawk jumped into the bird bath this time, looking around for a reaction from everyone at the bath. Except for the Mourning Dove they all stayed put. The birds looked at each other nodding, smiling and relaxing a bit more. The dove even returned and took a quick drink. The chickadee started talking with the titmouse. The junco and finches began discussing their winter plans. Overall, the mood lightened up considerably. "That’s great!" I said looking around. "I think we’re making real progress here!" "Okay," the rat complained, rolling his eyes and preparing to leave. "This is getting old." Just then the hawk reached over and in one quick movement snatched the rat and flew off. "Hey!" I yelled in exasperation. "I thought you were working on a new approach!" "I was," he said. "That was it."

Bless the birds ~ Joanie and Annie

At the Water Cooler


I like to spend time at my bird baths occasionally just to listen to what the birds are saying--latest rumors, how things have gone with the breeding season this year, who’s here for the winter, who has left, any complaints about bird seed, repairs needed on nesting boxes--stuff like that. The birds are pretty vocal generally unless something unusual happens.

I was refilling my largest bird bath recently and waited until, one-on-one,

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East Bay Times Article


Attracting birds and bees to our yards and gardens is simple, if we provide what they like and need.

Joanie Smith, owner of East Bay Nature in Walnut Creek, says there are five essential elements for success — water, food, cover, nesting and safety.

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