Spring is in the air and a starling is in the stove

Ah, the familiar sounds of springtime down on the farm; the frogs croaking, bees buzzing and a starling fluttering inside the stove.

Ah, the familiar sounds of springtime down on the farm; the frogs croaking, bees buzzing and a starling fluttering inside the stove.

We have an unseemly amount of birds on our property — not that I’m complaining. Our woods and wetlands ring with the song of red-wing blackbirds, robins, grosbeaks, blue jays, swallows, orioles, magpies, crows, chickadees, common redpolls, starlings, nut hatches and an assortment of woodpeckers including hairy, downy, flickers and to our recent great delight, a pair of the pileated kind.

The woodpeckers thrive here because of the ridiculous amount of blow down. We have 60 acres in total with only 10 or so in sheep and horse pasture while the rest is dense forest. When we first moved here I had visions of somehow cleaning up all the toppled poplars so we could walk through our property without tripping and flailing about through the waistdeep deadfall. I wanted a clean, park-like kind of forest. It will never happen. Instead we have settled for a circular walking trail that we keep clear of tumble down trees (and by “we” I mean Darcy and his trusty chainsaw). We can walk through a small part of our woods on this wide looping pathway, but the rest of the forest is left to the wild. The rotting logs provide homes for birds, butterflies, rabbits, squirrels and all manner of critters and bugs. It also holds a variety of native plants that are so beautiful they make me question why I garden at all. How much saner it would be if I just walked through the woods, checking out nature’s perfect garden instead. But I digress. Back to the subject at hand; the starling in the stove.

Come spring all the birds unleash themselves about the place scouring every tree, every birdhouse and every outbuilding for housing possibilities. The birdhouses are snapped up faster than cheap condos in Vancouver. It’s the early migrates that get the best houses. For the last couple springs the juncos won out, but this year a smug pair of starlings set up housekeeping in the most popular birdhouse just hours before its former tenants arrived. Mr. and Mrs. Junco were properly horrified at the turn of events and exchanged a few heated chirps with the Starling couple, debating previous tenancy rights before apparently losing out to the better known “early-bird-gets-the-worm” clause.

When it comes to nature I try not to take sides, but in this case I felt sorry for the juncos, and not just because it had been their home first. Starlings have a nasty penchant for eating their neighbours’ children. Juncos — as far as I know — do not. The next day I glanced out the window and spotted the pileated woodpecker perched on the side of the starlings’ new house. I lunged for my camera and knocked off a couple blurry shots just before he chattered his beak on the bird house filling the air with his trademark RAT-A-TAT-TAT. In the time it took for the starling couple to think, “What the — ?” he had popped a quarter sized hole in their roof and flew off.

I bet Mr. and Mrs. Junco got a kick out of that.



As for the starlings, one of them apparently decided to check out our chimney as a hole-less housing possibility. And like all the birds that came before him and all the birds that will come after (pending the rental of a bucket truck and the insertion of a screen) he instead found the chimney to be bottomless. Or almost. The poor birds must feel like Alice in Wonderland tumbling down the rabbit hole. Only instead of seeing a rabbit or a bottle of magic medicine upon landing, they find themselves peering through the glass door of the wood stove straight into the buggy-with-surprise eyes of Cosmo the dog.

Fortunately this only happens two or three times per spring and getting the birds out is a simple matter. We only have to draw the blinds, shut off the lights and open the kitchen door. Then we fling the door to the stove ajar and out the bird soars, heading straight for the rectangle of light and into the wild blue yonder. They always land on the tip of a poplar and burst into song for a few seconds before resuming their search for a nest. They’re either singing out of sheer joy of having survived or letting other birds know to steer clear of the tall silver tube tree. Or in the case of the shady starling, he is probably telling the Junco couple he has found them the perfect nest.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns or check out her garden blog by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com.