Edge of the Earth Journal
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Phil relaxing on the porch and
watching the birds at
Edge of the Earth Rd.
    Yesterday, the two "nestling" E. Phoebes came out of their nests and appeared before me under the eaves of the porch.  Why did they do so?  Well, that's where the choicest moths, other bugs, spiders, and such succulent fare are located.  How did they know?  Their parents whispered in their ears while feeding them?  (Nurture)  They just knew.  (Nature)  Choose one or the other or, like the rest of us, spin it somewhere in between.

     How did I know they were just out of the nest?  Simple; they didn't have the slightest idea what they were doing and were not in complete control of their flying or perching abilities.  Finally, they landed on the hummingbird feeders which, as they soon learned, was a really bad idea.  The hummingbirds came after them like terrorists on a mission from gawd.  I know how they felt.  I've been there.  What gets me is how quickly they learned and spurned such an inflammatory perch for the precarious edge of a support pole.  Took me years to figure that out and I'm not sure even today that I fully possess such knowledge.

     About the goldfinches:  yeah, they are here and then they aren't.  I watch the thistle in the tubes go down 3-4" in a day and then for 3-4 weeks, nothing except the raccoons showing up each night to tear the feeder down and discover there's nothing in there to their liking.  Then, out of nowhere, I notice a couple of inches of thistle gone and listen for that little "wheeze" in the trees where they all hide from my view.  I know then, "they're baaaaaaaaaaaaaack!" which means another trip to the store for thistle.  Which, by the time I buy it and get it in the feeder, it just sits there like my 401K program.

     Must admit I like the little critters though.

     Especially in a cream sauce......... JUST KIDDING!!

     Both my wife and I have noticed how aggressive the hummingbirds are this year.  You walk out into the yard and they "buzz" you.  Three times they've actually struck my hair.  Never before have they done this.  (I might lie, but my wife?  Never!  They've done it to her.)  Really odd.  I've had them "attack" me, if I could call it that, while I'm standing on the porch.  It's quite disconcerting while either lighting a cigarette or taking that first sip of good bourbon to have a hummingbird go after you as if he had a personal grudge against you such as you can't even imagine.

     We have four feeders up.  I've had more but it doesn't really seem to matter:  four or fifty, they're going to fight over them and the amount "swilled" is nearly always the same.  Up the road from me are my good friends, the Ivesters.  Their place is called "Hummingbird Hill."  He's put up a great sign to that effect (which kind of makes me feel bad; our sign says, "17101 Edge of the Earth Rd. 'We don't rent pigs'.")  I talked with him the other day and he told me they go through a gallon of hummingbird food everyday.  God bless them!

     Me, I've got my same number every year that go through a gallon about every five days.

     Except Monday.

     Okay, here's the story.  I came home from working with Cyndie Browning on her Breeding Bird Survey route on Sunday afternoon.  I tell you, the 35th time you get out of your vehicle and then haul yourself back into it, the desire to know what you hear and see during the next fifteen stops really wanes.  (Anyone who doesn't understand this, kindly contact Dan Reinking.)  Anyway....where was I?....oh, yes, I came home from said adventure and found my wife sick as a dog.  She had just come back from visiting our grandchildren in New Jersey.  As my son (their father) says, "those kids are mobile bacterial labs."  So she came home sick.  Sunday was the worst day.  I came back extremely happy with the result of our efforts as Cyndie had reported them to me AND the fact that I was getting out of the van one last time.

     "Sick as a dog," my wife said to me in greeting.

     "Oh, I'm sorry," I replied, with all the male nuance I've been able to accumulate over the years.

     "Don't talk to me," she replied, heading for bed.

     The hummingbird feeders are empty.  On the stove is the large pan in which we "cook" up the hummingbird food.  It's full.  It's cooled.  "It's hummingbird food," I say to myself, muchly admiring my wife who is SO ill but still thinking of the less fortunate.

     While back on the porch two days later, I noticed the one feeder I had not refilled on Sunday that was virtually empty was also surrounded by warring hordes of hummingbirds, while the other two feeders I had filled were not being touched.

     This morning, when my dear wife came out of the bathroom fully coiffured for work, I asked, "Honey, that WAS hummingbird water in the pot on the stove on Sunday afternoon, was it not?"

     She looked at me as if I were someone she did not know and did not want to ever know.

     "It was hot water with a bit of salt added that I used as a hot compress against my cheekbones when the sinus pain was so bad."

     Secretly, I gulped.

     "You didn't!!" she hurled at me.

     Without a word, I went to the kitchen and quickly cooked up a fresh batch of hummingbird food and took down the two offending feeders while leaving the empty one for the aggressive feuders to futilely fight over.  Got the new food finished, put it below the fan to cool, and by 7:30 had "real" hummingbird food in three feeders.  While putting up the feeders, the hummingbirds surrounded me in a most accusatory fashion and I swear I heard some disparagement cast against my parentage.

     This afternoon all is well.  The thistle feeders are going down.  The hummingbird food is disappearing at an alarming rate (thirsty, I presume), and the E. Phoebes are back.  They're much better at gaining perch and defending themselves while devouring all the insects that plague my wife and me as we try to sit on the porch and appreciate the other forms of nature that don't feed on us.

     I think the Phoebes have got it now.  How did they?  Adult birds whisper in their ears with every morsel presented to them? (Nurture)  Or they finally got it when the right synapses were in place to allow the inherited information to pass to the right part of the brain that would process it?  (Nature).

     Have no idea.  Ask Ari Flescher.

     Me?  I'm headed to the store for more thistle.

     Good birding, friends.
(c) Copyrighted by Phil Floyd 2003
Phoebes, Goldfinches
and Hummingbirds

June 11, 2003