Extra Guests At The Table

By: Mary Richmond

It was bitter cold on this sunny morning. I’d put out extra seed and suet and the feeders were busy with the usual suspects taking their fill. Just the day before it had been warm enough that song sparrows were singing, and flickers were flirting. On this day, however, their attention was on food, not premature thoughts of spring.

There have been more than the usual amount of blue jays at my house over the last few weeks. Blue jays migrate short distances, so I don’t know if these individuals had recently arrived or were part of the neighborhood flock I’d been seeing all winter. There were at least a dozen trying to take over the feeders. A few titmice and chickadees waited their turns on branches across the yard and a half dozen or so cardinals snuck in to feed on the ground with two squirrels that were stuffing themselves. A pair of flickers continued bickering over the suet cake until a small army of starlings arrived.

There’s something about starlings that makes me laugh. I know some people hate them. They can be noisy, messy and reckless. They have few if any manners and when they fly in to the feeder area most of the other birds simply leave. They can be a bit piggy and it’s not unusual to see a bunch of them arguing over the best spots for suet, sometimes knocking the feeder off its post. Then it’s a free-for-all.

The only birds that seem to decide enough is enough with a flock of rude starlings are the jays and sure enough, the jays arrived, full of noise and posturing. In a rush, the starlings all flew high into the branches of a big oak on the corner of our lot.

For a few minutes everything settled down and I had just about finished my chores near the kitchen window. Suddenly, pandemonium broke out. Birds were calling, wings were flapping and there was movement and confusion everywhere I looked. We have a couple of Cooper’s hawks that can cause a panic, but this was much too noisy, even for an interrupted hawk attack. Hundreds and hundreds of robins had arrived, and I do mean hundreds. The trees and shrubs were full of them and the ground was hosting several dozen more. I could hear a general ruckus all over, so I rushed to look out other windows. Sure enough, my entire yard had been taken over by robins.

They were in the rosa multiflora bushes, tugging at the tiny rose hips. They were in the hollies, popping berries into their beaks like kids with candy. They were in the wild part of the yard where the cat brier and privet grow, stripping them of berries as well. It was as if there was a secret sign somewhere announcing our yard as the best rest stop ever.

New readers should know that I live in a tiny house in a tiny yard smack dab in the middle of Hyannis. In other words, it’s not like this was a big, farm-like place. This was more like the untamed urban jackpot.

The robins were clucking and mumbling, wings were whirring, and eventually some of the starlings dared to join them. Not for long. Even the jays were cowed by all that fresh robin attitude. These were hungry birds and they were making no bones about it. Robins are not known to be aggressive birds. Quite the opposite, in fact. But this bunch was making it clear that they were on a mission and everyone else needed to step aside until they were done.

And, they all did. Except for one. You may remember I have had a mockingbird roosting in one of my big bushes. It’s a huge forsythia being tangled up by an equally huge rosa multiflora. It has been full of rose hips which the mockingbird has guarded and enjoyed all winter long. This poor guy flew from branch to branch, from bush to holly trees, to another bush, frantically trying to state his case to the robbing robins. Alas, they ignored him. And every single rose hip was devoured. There are a few holly berries left but not many.

The sweep of robins lasted a little over an hour with a few brief returns later in the day. It was one of those rare moments that happens when you least expect it. It’s why I am always on the lookout. I never know what I’ll see next.