The Shell Game

bird on feeder 001

The Shell Game

It was forty-seven degrees on Livia’s porch this morning. Even the birds felt the chill. Still, they eat to live and the feeder was busy. The black oiled sunflower seeds it contains are the menu of choice for many breeds.
When the grackle comes to feed, the other birds wait. He is not greedy. He pulls a seed from the opening and turns to look around while he works it with his long, curved, black bill until the shell falls to the ground. Then he takes another.
House sparrows with their stout black beaks can shell a seed in record time. They gather in large flocks, bringing friends from other colonies, and that crew can drop the level of seed in the feeder in a day. If that happens, tie a few strands of fish line from the top of the feeder. For whatever reason, they’ll stay away.
Then we have the cardinals. They might land on the feeder and make a lot of noise, but then they fly to the ground and eat the spoils quite efficiently with their own stout beaks. Other ground eaters are squirrels, chipmunks, and mourning doves.
Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches fly to the feeder, grab a seed, and return to a perch. They work the shell off, holding the seed in place with their feet, and poke it open with the end of their sharp little beaks. Then they fly back to the feeder, take another seed, fly back to the perch . . . you get it.
One other animal I failed to mention is amazingly talented at parting the sunflower seed from its shell, without using paws or even beaks. They fill their mouths with seeds and you can watch the shells begin to shoot out in seconds. These animals are called baseball players. It isn’t a pretty sight, but it beats chewing tobacco!


About Gerri

I'm in my second career. Besides raising my beautiful family, worked as RN. Now I'm a novelist. Have completed five novels and working on my sixth. Way more fun than nursing! Happy hubby and neurotic cat hang out with me.

Posted on September 9, 2013, in On Cape Cod and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What a joy to sit and observe the antics of the birds feeding at your seed station. i am sure Livia loves watching too. I love watching birds. I have observed that last class of birds since I was a child, having grown up a block from the baseball aviary, where they would catch a lot of flies. I am always amazed, they seem to come in all colors, but only one sex. I guess it’s an X linked recessive trait, kinda like hacking up gunk, spitting on the sidewalk or bringing clods of mud into the nest. Oh well, bring the seeds and Play ball! Sent from my iPad

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Sandy Goodwin Fontana

    Amusing entry, well written! Nice end-of-summer primer.

  3. You are a friend after my own heart. I love watching the birds and I did take your advice last year and added to fishing line to the feeder – it really works. I have saved a lot of seed and had plenty for other birds that stay away when the sparrows are around. My favorite as you know is the hummingbird. They still amaze me when they show up. At one point this summer (when the grandkids were here), we had 3 of them at one time and they put on quite a show for them. They are very possessive of their feeder and will shoo off any other hummingbirds who try to feed from it. Love it.

    • Friends of the heart, indeed! We watched a tireless little hummingbird defend his tree from an invading chickadee. The battle went on for some time. Guess who won! Mighty Mite!

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