Last year we took an art studio tour around the county in which we bought our life-sized ceramic raven from Susan Weir-Ancker.
While we were considering the deal, we sat on the long veranda of her charming ranch-style home, where the artist had hung a dozen or more hummingbird feeders.
There was a magical feel to the place. The sunshine was bright and warm, the grass was brilliant green, and a peaceable multitude of birds hovered and flitted all around us, like a family of amiable fairies.
I thought wistfully of our own deck, where we too had hung several feeders and filled them with sugar water in hopes of creating just this kind of atmosphere.
We did get birds, but there were seldom more than a handful. And their behavior was not like anything we saw in Susan's little avian Eden.
The most frequent visitor looked to us like a male rufous. He claimed our property as his exclusive preserve. Not only did he insist on being the only diner at his favorite feeder, which was designed to accommodate four birds at once. He also kept his eye continuously on all the other feeders and left off eating to attack any intruder that tried to get a taste at any of them.
The rufous "outflies all other species," according to hummingbirds.net, "and usually gets its way at feeders at the expense of slower, less-maneuverable hummers."
Yes, that was our guy for sure.
The other birds didn't give up. They lurked in the branches of a nearby juniper and took turns trying to distract the little thug so the others could sneak a slurp or two.
It was interesting. And I realize that both down in Susan's river valley and up on our piney ridge it was just birds being birds. I don't take it personally. I know I'm no St. Francis of Assisi. But I much preferred the spirit of community, generosity and plenty that I enjoyed on the artist's veranda, and instead I was immersed in naked aggression, craven stealth, guile and greed.
This year I suppose it's still too early for hummingbirds. But Pam has a new bird strategy. She's hung the contraption shown above consisting of two long tubes of tightly woven mesh. I call them feederpants. She stuffs them with tasty seeds.
They've attracted an eager flock of some kind of finch. They look to me like house finches. But judging from the images Google serves up, they could also be Cassin's finches or rosy finches, although I can't see much sign of the pink or even red that males of all three types display in their close-ups.
Pink or not, what they are for sure is hungry. They're all over the feederpants morning, noon and often well past dusk. They seem more focused than the hummers. They cluster on the pants in as large a number as will fit, and everybody eats their fill. No fighting, not much shoving.
It only takes them a few days to empty the pants, which hold several pounds of seed. I think they have much to teach the hummingbirds, which I've read must eat continuously or starve to death in just a few hours. They don't have time for foolishness, but they engage in it anyway. I suppose I'm not the one to criticize.
As for the finches, the collateral benefit to us is that they chatter while they gorge. It's not a particularly sweet song, but it beats the audio competition, which is usually the soundtrack of Peppa Pig drifting out of Elizabeth's room.
All in all so far, however, the bird that contributes most reliably to the ambience is still Susan's raven. Always there on his pine perch, head turned just so, beak angled upward, eye cocked our way, a model of dignity.