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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Is it climate change, or just lame jelly?

  • No matter the reason, orioles and warblers staying away.


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  • So maybe that ultra-mild, phantom winter of 2011-12 and premature, glorious spring that followed weren’t all wonderful, huh?
     
        Farmers in many cases were able to get into their fields and plant way earlier than usual, in some cases historically earlier. But now, we’re hearing now about farmers who are dealing with not just typical pests attacking their crops in greater numbers than usual, but different pests, too, that don’t normally come to this neck of the woods to do their munching.
     
        And what about us backyard birder types? Did the sissy winter and early spring add up to a bounty of birds? Did our favorite birds come in greater numbers to our yards and feeders this spring to eat and, in some cases, nest? Did some new spring migrants visit, too, that had us lunging for the nearest bird book to see just what in the heck was perched on a branch in our backyard?
     
        That would be no, and…no.
     
        Some of our least favorite birds on the planet are certainly enjoying strength in numbers, however. If my backyard each spring is known as Grackle and Blackbird City, then this spring it’s constantly rush hour. They’re nesting all over the place, too, and as I write this I can hear out the open window the unmistakenably awful sound of a baby grackle screeching on the ground for mom or dad to shove some regurgitated food matter into its mouth.
     
        Grackles and blackbirds probably cost me around $400 more each year in bird seed because of the sheer volume of seed that they can shove down their ugly throats.
     
        Then there’s the sounds they make. When they’re looking for love in the spring, or maybe just establishing territory, and they puff up their feathers and make that squeak/screech combo sound? It would be easy for me to compare it on the Unpleasant Meter to the sound of fingernails scraped across a chalkboard, but that would be giving Quint on Jaws too much credit. For me, if the lowest rated sound on the Unpleasant Meter is someone struggling to open up a plastic bag of chips, the sound of the puffed-up grackle doing the squawk thing is a close second.
     
        Yes, I’ve had some welcome winged spring visitors. Without the goldfinches and pine siskins, I don’t know why I’d bother even sitting in the porch once in a while to take in some of the ornithological sights and sounds in the yard. A few weeks ago, I had more white-throated sparrows than ever before, too, and more northern flicker activity than I can ever recall. And I always have house finches, and black-capped chickadees, lots of different sparrows, hummingbirds, and the white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches. My brown thrasher couple are back to nest this year, too.
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        But where are the grosbeaks? In some years past, before the trees leafed out, I’d count three, four or even five different rose-breasted grosbeaks perched on the branches. This year, not one. And Baltimore orioles, probably defined as THE spring bird to attract around these parts? Zilch. Not one.
     
        A few years ago, I set up two jelly and sliced-orange feeding stations in the backyard, one tucked in a corner surrounded by trees, and another right outside one of our living room windows. For weeks, it was unreal, almost like the orioles (orchard orioles, too) and all these different warblers had struck a deal, with the orioles having sole feeding rights at the far feeding station, and the warblers eating outside the window. I’ll never forget that spring, how many times I’d grab for my bird books because so many different ones would come and dig into that jelly. They were so close, I could easily identify them as Nashville, magnolia, Tennessee, etc.
     
        I haven’t had a warbler eat jelly in my backyard for two years. As for orioles, my wife swore she saw one a few weeks ago, but when I asked her where, she said it was trotting on the ground. We soon concluded that it was just a vibrant looking alpha robin male strutting his stuff. Then I screamed in a rage at my lovely bride, alerting her to the fact that everyone knows an oriole never trots around on the ground. Silly girl!
     
        Maybe this isn’t all climate-change related, however. Maybe it’s something bigger, like…good jelly vs. cheap jelly. My wife and I always battle over my love of expensive brand names, and her desire to save a buck on store brands that are “just as good.” I always fed my orioles and warblers Smuckers grape jelly, but it’s been all downhill since a couple years ago, when I came home with a big jar of Our Family grape jelly.
     
        But maybe this spring was the last straw. My wife was making a quick run to Wal-Mart and I told her to get some grape jelly. She came home with a jar of something known as “Bama” grape jelly. The first time I took the jar and a spoon out to the yard to glop some on a feeding station, I think an oriole or warbler flying overhead saw the brand – How could they not, with “BAMA” on the label written in such huge letters  - and sent out word to his feathered homies that the guy on Sunset and gone cheap, and they all went to eat Smuckers in some gated neighborhood with a fancy neighborhood in some swank suburb somewhere.
     

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