Monday, November 28, 2011

Massacre by the Hedge...

An ominous visitor shows up in the maple tree...

During the first spring that we spent in our house, I installed a post-mounted bird feeder a few feet from our family room window.  We were hoping to attract a nice array of colorful, suburban song birds...  Cardinals, Chick-a-dees, Finches, Nuthatches, Carolina Wrens, and maybe a few Downy Woodpeckers here and there.

My favorites are the Carolina Wrens, along with the three or four varieties of woodpeckers that visit.  As far as woodpeckers go, we've seen Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers.

We've even had a few Pterodactyls show up.

Earlier in the year, I was looking out the patio door over my morning coffee, watching my neighbor climbing around his roof.  He was shimmying around the perimeter, cleaning out his gutters with a leaf blower.

Northern Flickers like to scour the ground for ants.
All of a sudden, a large, majestic-looking dinosaur soared into our back yard and settled onto the trunk of one of our maples.

     "Honey," I called out.  "Come look at the Pterodactyl."

     "Um, that's a Pileated Woodpecker," said my wife, as she joined me with her coffee.

     "No...  you're wrong," I said, shaking my head.  "I'm pretty sure that's a Pterodactyl."

After gashing a few splintery caverns in the trunk of the maple, the wondrous dinosaur spread his wings and took flight, disappearing beyond the peak of our neighbor's roof.

I took another sip of coffee and noticed that our cat Mookie was eyeing a chipmunk, which was combing the deck for stray seeds and other edible detritus just outside the sliding glass door.  As the filthy varmint came within a few feet of the house, Mookie sprinted over to the window, almost crashing into the glass.  He continued hissing as he arched his back and clacked his teeth in irritation.

At first, there were only a few chipmunks hanging around the house...  two or three maybe, and perhaps four or five on the weekends.  And I had to admit that they were pretty cute.  While we always scolded the squirrels, referring to them as obese, slovenly parasites, the chipmunks typically received a pass because they were precious and cute.

But now I'm not so sure.

What started as three or four chipmunks has turned into about a dozen or more...  at any one time.


Whenever I fill up the bird feeder, the hoards of chipmunks stream forth from the trees like a wave of plague and filth, bouncing and darting about the yard, stuffing their greedy cheeks with endless amounts of black oil sunflower seed.

And they dig holes and tunnels everywhere.

The other day, I set foot off our back step onto the brick sidewalk, and the bricks below my feet gave way and collapsed into the ground.  After prying up a dozen or so of the surrounding bricks, I uncovered a network of chipmunk burrows and tunnels.  It took me almost an hour to fill and pack dirt and rocks into the tunnels.

Dirty bastards...

Earlier this summer, I relocated the bird feeder about twenty more yards away from the house, in an attempt to draw the filthy little creatures away.  While they spend much more time away from the foundation of our house, they still seem to scurry back there to dig tunnels in the flower beds and store their nuts and seeds under our deck.

Too big to be carried away by the Angel of Death...
I've been trying to think of a way to reduce the chipmunk population around the house.  We've been using a Havahart trap for the wood chucks, but I don't feel like making a trip to the park every five minutes to release a rogue chipmunk.

The other day, nature almost...  ALMOST...  answered my prayers.

I was mowing the lawn on a Saturday afternoon, when I got the eerie feeling that I was being watched.  When I switched off the mower to empty to bag, I looked up in the maple trees around the border of our backyard.

High above in one of the maples was perched a hawk of some sort.  My sister later confirmed that it was either a Cooper's Hawk or a Sharp-Shinned Hawk.  This guy was huge.  It was a monster.  It's piercing eyes were focused directly on me, studying carefully.

Quietly, I went inside to retrieve the camera, and I snapped a few pictures from the back step.  When I returned to the parked mower a few moments later, the hawk was still perched in the same spot.

We stared at each other for another minute, as I strolled over to our lawn waste pile to empty the grass.  After reattaching the empty bag to the mower, I extended a formal invitation to our visitor to stay for dinner.
Still too big to be carried away by the Angel of Death...

     "Help yourself," I offered, gesturing thoughtfully with an outstretched arm towards the five chipmunks that were bouncing around the ground under our seed feeder, just twenty yards away.

     "Take 'em all, if you'd like.  And be sure to come back for dessert."

I started up the mower and continued walking up and down our backyard, cutting the grass in neat rows.  Once every two or three passes, I'd pause to glance at our visitor high up in the maple tree.  After a few minutes, the bird had clearly lost interest in me...  probably realizing that I was just a bit too large to carry away.

After about ten minutes, I had all but forgotten about the hawk.

All of a sudden, it shot like a missile towards the feeder, where the chipmunks were still busy gorging themselves.  But it passed right by the feeder, instead spearing itself into the large hedge on our property line, where about a dozen House Sparrows were perched.

But the third bowl of porridge was juuuuuuuuust right...

The gathering of sparrows collectively squawked and began to scatter in a frenzied panic, but not before the hawk managed to peck a lone sparrow out of the hedge and onto the grass near our deck. I watched in awe as it continued pecking and tearing into its unfortunate prey.

I tiptoed across the back yard towards the hedge, hoping to get a better look.  After about a dozen steps, the hawk noticed me, snatched it up between its talons, and headed up into the air towards the large tree across the street.  It disappeared behind the branches a few moments later.

Puzzled, I scratched my head and glanced back at the hoard of chipmunks feasting in the grass below the feeder.  They continued scurrying about the backyard with their cheeks stuffed full of seed, unaware that the Angel of Death had just visited the premises.

     Hmmmmm...  Do I need spread barbecue sauce under the feeder?

Take the House Sparrows if you must, but spare the House Finches.
They're too cute to eat...

Of course, if the one or two hawks visiting our yard ultimately prefer birds over chipmunks, I'd much rather they choose the House Sparrows over the wrens, chick-a-dees, finches, or titmice.  House sparrows are one of the more invasive avian species found in backyard habitats and suburban sprawl.

Along with the European Starling, the House Sparrow was introduced to North America by members of the American Acclimatization Society.  This collection of literary douche-bags was obsessed with introducing every European bird ever mentioned by Shakespeare to North American shores.

Looks like a Pterodactyl to me...
(The only picture here I DIDN'T take.)
The first batch of sparrows was released in Brooklyn, New York, in 1851.  Within fifty years, they had reproduced like rabbits on Viagra and spread as far west as the Rockies.  Today, we are blessed to have about 12,488 of them living in our back yard.

These feathered dickheads are notorious for kicking other species of birds from their nests and cavity dwellings.

My sister, who has several nest boxes spread over her ten acres, has administered many a tongue-lashing to numerous House Sparrows over the years, who have molested and bullied her Blue Birds out of their homes.

We don't have any nest boxes in our back yard, but we still witness gangs of House Sparrows swarming in like the plague on a regular basis, monopolizing the seed feeder.

I'd prefer that any visiting hawks place a priority on the chipmunks when planning their dinner menu.  However, if they're craving feathered beings, I don't mind if they pick off a few House Sparrows now and then.

In the meantime, I'll continue to find creative ways to keep the chipmunks away from the house.

The Barn Swallows that moved into my sister's nest boxes can
hold their own against unwanted visitors.