In Washington region, spirit of Saint Francis is alive and well when it comes to birds

Columnist

Saint Francis of Assisi is often depicted surrounded by birds. Well, if my reader mail is any indication, our area is chock full of Saint Francises.

I wrote Monday about the drama that plays out every day at my backyard bird feeders. Mary Jane Cox lives in the District’s Palisades neighborhood, where she puts out safflower seeds, suet and raisins, which the catbirds love.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

“There are at least three generations of catbirds now and they see nothing wrong in stalking us around the yard to tell us when the feeder is empty,” Mary Jane wrote. “The same ones return each summer and remind us to start putting them out since they are back. . . . We spend a lot of money feeding these wonderful creatures and we get so much enjoyment from them that I enter bird food expenses under ‘Entertainment’ in my household budget book.”

Ted Sevigny in Gainesville, Va., and his wife have two hummingbird feeders, two peanut feeders, two hull-less sunflower seed feeders, two thistle feeders, one black oil sunflower seed feeder and three bird baths. Squirrels were a problem until Ted rigged up two differently-sized clear plastic baffles on the wire that holds the peanut feeder. “That finally worked,” Ted wrote. “Of course it all looks like a satellite hanging from a tree.”

Such is the price some pay for their bird love.

A black bear snacking from the bird feeder in the Culpeper, Va., yard of Hans Heinz. (Photo by Hans Heinz)

Alexandria’s John Fuller said his back yard has the same birds as mine — cardinals, finches, chickadees, etc. — and something else: “an impressive sharp-shinned hawk that occasionally sends the lower varieties scampering, although an occasional slow-moving dove gets whacked, leaving behind a pile of feathers.”

John reports that the birds are just as numerous in Alexandria as in my neck of the woods, in Silver Spring. “I asked the lady at One Good Tern, our local bird supply store,” he wrote. “She said we’re currently between natural food supplies. The berries of spring are gone, and the seeds of autumn haven’t arrived. So, keep those feeders stocked.”

Of course, attracting little birds can mean attracting big birds. “Mary in Springfield” wrote that “a huge, fearless, B-52-sized hawk” enjoys her bountiful, all-you-can-eat avian display. Wrote Mary: “If he can’t easily carry them off (doves) in one fell swoop, he stuns them by hurling them into our large kitchen window, and then scoops them up. It’s horrifying, but there is nothing we can do because these dudes can efficiently spot prey from 1,000 feet or a neighbor’s roof. Nature can be ugly.”

But oh so very cool.

And why is it that doves seem to have such a hard time of it? Could it be that mourning doves are mourning for . . . themselves?

The bird invasion has caused Dalal Musa to shift gears in Falls Church. She noticed that the avian crowds were scaring off the hummingbirds, so she took down the seed feeder, leaving only those designed for hummingbirds.

“The little ones are only around in the summer anyway, so they will get their chance and then I’ll return the seed feeder come September and October,” Dalal wrote. “Hummingbird sightings are quite gratifying.”

A veritable menagerie descends on Don and Anna Barbara Wittig’s yard in Olney. It isn’t just the typical songbirds, but creatures you wouldn’t normally expect in the suburbs: turkey and black vultures, red foxes, and white-tailed deer. Wrote Don: “It’s a zoo here at times, and always fascinating.”

I think the reader with the biggest unwelcome bird-seed stealer must be Hans Heinz. He lives in Culpeper, Va., and feeds the birds year round. “For the past 10 years I have lost upward of $1,000 worth of feeders to bears,” he wrote. “Not only do they destroy the feeders, but they also bend over the steel poles which supports them. Let me know if you come across any bear-proof feeders.”

When Hans first started having bear problems, he contacted the local game warden. “He mentioned that I could get a permit to shoot a bear doing damage,” Hans wrote. “Or I could wait until the hunting season opens. But what do you do with a 300-pound dead bear? So I bear (no pun intended) with it. I have the same variety of birds you do, except I have no English sparrows or starlings. I guess I am too far in the country for these ‘city birds.’ ”

While the ravenous sparrows and starlings irritate me, I don’t think I’d trade them for a bear. Maybe Saint Francis would be fine with it.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

local

Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local

local

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters