Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Nocturnal feeder visitors

            Before construction was even finished on my house many years ago, I had already put up several birdfeeders in the backyard, and I’ve been keeping them filled throughout the colder months of the year ever since. If you haven’t put out your feeder for the year yet, it’s definitely time. In addition to the regular winter visitors, I have high hopes that this will be one of those unusual years when we’ll have some rarities from the far north dropping by, like redpolls, evening grosbeaks and red crossbills.
            But don’t think that it’s just birds and squirrels that are attracted to birdfeeders. A wide variety of other creatures are, too. And if you get into the habit – as I have – of briefly turning on
the back porchlight and glancing at the feeders before going to bed at night, there is an excellent chance that you will spy some unexpected neighbors dropping by for a bedtime snack.
            I first started paying attention to my nocturnal feeder visitors when I noticed that large
Cartoon by David Chatowsky
quantities of birdseed was disappearing during the overnight hours when I assumed all the seed-eating birds were asleep. It wasn’t long before I discovered a parade of wildlife scavenging spilled seed from beneath the feeders and a few adept critters climbing on the feeders and knocking more seed to the ground.
            A pair of gray foxes were the first night-time animals I noticed in the illuminated area around my feeders. Slightly larger than their more common red cousins, gray foxes sport a conspicuous black tip to their tail and a black “mane” running atop their tail’s entire length. When I turned on the light, they glanced toward it and then went back to slurping up sunflower seeds from the ground.
            My continued vigilance with the backyard light occasionally turns up at least two different striped skunks that must live nearby, one with a wide white stripe down its back and tail and another whose white stripe is thin, crooked and mottled with black. In all my years of watching, I’ve seen just one opossum, and it just strolled through the light without stopping to eat any seeds.
            My favorite nighttime visitors have been flying squirrels, three of them with big ears, huge eyes and a thick flap of fur between their front and hind legs allowing them to soar from tree to tree. They frequently chase each other around the feeders and then play peek-a-boo behind a tree trunk when they see my face in the window. Like several of the more common daytime birds, the flying squirrels take one seed at a time and disappear into the forest to eat it before returning for another morsel.
            Lately, my feeders have been regularly assaulted by a family of five raccoons. When I flicked on the light the other night, I saw one tugging at a big chunk of suet, another was hanging upside-down on a tube feeder sucking out the seeds, and a third was on the ground gobbling up what the tube sucker had spilled. The other two animals were perched comfortably above the feeders high in a tree, probably digesting a big meal compliments of yours truly.
            But I’m not complaining. My nocturnal visitors are highly entertaining, and I’m happy to have them. Besides, it could be worse. At least no bears have found my feeders. Yet.

This article first appeared in The Independent on November 16, 2017.

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