A huge flock of chipping sparrows greets me as I settle in by the Red River this morning. I can hardly exaggerate to guesstimate them as over 100 individual birds.
I rarely see these chippers arrive singly, but why do they flock in such huge numbers? As one might guess, it apparently has to do with food supply.
There seems to be a characteristic in ground freshly freed of a winter’s snow covering that offers an instant and very temporary food supply is it seeds? They are seed eaters, with bills adapted for that purpose, that is, for cracking seeds.
That adaptation is amazing to me. Even though I am only three or four feet away behind a window, they crack them so quickly I can hardly see them do it.
They are terribly messy eaters. They fling the hulls in all directions. I should note that I refer not just to the chipper but to most of the seed eaters.
If they are feeding at the suet log, they fling a remnant of the suet as well, which smacks against the window and sticks. These seed eaters look like dainty and neat little creatures, but don’t stand downwind of them at lunch time! Of course, I must confess, the environmentalists tell us we humans have a bit of this quality in us as well.
And then, having said all this, I am reminded that one of the seed eaters (is it the nuthatch?) daintily picks up one seed at a time and flies off with it, and I am left wondering how his metabolism can sufficiently supply the energy he expends. But he offers as solemn reminder to us “smart” humans that we cannot lump all individuals who look alike into the same category. And I am left wondering if the good Lord has given us the creatures to teach us about ourselves.
American crow sails in as if intent on checking out something a dozen feet to my left, but he sails off without landing. He is very wary of me. He makes a couple more passes, first coming in from my right and then from behind me. Finally he sails up into a tall green ash tree that is still almost bare from winter but is starting to bud out. He faces me and eyes me steadily. I put on my most innocent and harmless demeanor. He is not deceived. I think he is a smart bird. I have invaded his territory (we humans do that sort of thing if we feel stronger than others — it’s the “might makes right” principle), and seem to feel I don’t need to move.
A chickadee lands three feet in front of me, picks up something and then flies off a few feet. He seems a bit more scatterbrained than the crow, but he gets away with it because he is so adorable. There must be a lesson in that somewhere.
James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.