The Shell Game
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!