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Pondering behavior of backyard birds
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Forsyth County News

THE GRIND: Lambert's Kara Kidwell

By: Joshua Sutton

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I have been a bird lover since childhood. In fact, at about age 6, I wanted to be a bird.

I studied birds and watched them, and actually cried to my mother because even my little (albeit odd) girl mind knew it was just not going to happen.

Thank goodness my mother shared with me the brief life expectancy of many birds, and I decided to be content with my human existence.

I have always loved our backyard birds and try to make sure their feeders remain full. This is difficult since I am always at war with our fat squirrels, who are not only gluttons but bullies.

Squirrels also are quite persistent. Many times, I chase them away, only to see they didn’t really go far and are spying on me from a nearby tree branch, waiting for me to “retreat.”

After we planted our garden last Sunday, I went around filling the bird feeders and noticed how many birdhouses we have. I was surprised that none of the six were occupied.

Why is this? They are all different — wooden, ceramic, terra cotta — and have different sizes and shapes. For some reason, our birds don’t want to live in them.

I wondered if our birds think it is simply too good to be true. Perhaps the bird couple looks at the houses and thinks, “I am not going to fall for that one.”

Our birdhouses are perfectly nice and sturdy. Some are colorful, others plain. What’s not to like?

There are plenty to choose from, in all sorts of settings. Some are in trees with total privacy, for bird families who want that sort of thing. Or there are some more out in the open, for bird families who like to live on the edge.

Paul suggested since we live in such a wealthy county, perhaps our birds are snobby and don’t think the birdhouses are good enough. I don’t believe that for a minute.

I watch our birds all of the time and they seem like they are grateful for the seed provided and, for the most part, are kind to each other. Except for the doves, who like squirrels, are sort of bullies.

We have quite a cardinal clan. I read cardinals mate for life, which I think has such a romantic element to it. I also read that when it comes to mating, the brighter red the male’s feathers, the easier it is for him to find his special lady.

I always wonder how experts know such things. It’s not like cardinals can take a poll.

We probably have five different cardinal couples. I imagine they are all related and enjoy coming to our yard for a family feast.

But still, it bothers me that the cardinal clan loves coming to our yard to eat, and take an occasional bath in one of our three bird baths, but none want to live here.

I also love robins. As soon as we water the garden or it rains, the robins come out. They love to dig for worms and it is so amazing how deft they are at that job.

I love our blue jay, although he doesn’t come out too often. Blue jays are known to cause a raucous when they eat, but ours simply eats and leaves. I read they are supposed to be intelligent birds.

Again, not quite sure how bird experts know these things. If he is so smart, how come he doesn’t see there are six perfectly good, free homes he could be living in?

On the topic of bird seed, I also wonder why it is so expensive. I used to always buy plain old “wild bird seed,” until I read that many birds will pick out what they want and the rest is discarded to the ground for — you guessed it — my archenemies the squirrels and other rodents.

I read that if buying just one type, get sunflower seeds. I always have those, but I like to experiment with other kinds.

They are quite pricey, but I do love how they seem to attract other birds. But diligence is required to keep away the squirrels.

I know I have readers who know far more about birds and birding than I do. Please let me know why no birds want to live in our birdhouses.

Just please don’t accuse our birds of snobbery. I know that can’t be true.


Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at