Season of the Miniature

Summer solstice has passed, and the earth is reborn in miniature.

Tiny helicopter seeds on the manitoba maple are the size of my fingernail.

Acorns on the oak are tiny green pebbles.

Half-sized squirrels recklessly cross the ground near me, not yet having learned the caution of an adult.

Families of fledgling foragers feast! Magpie groups of about 5 birds array themselves in high bushes and low tree branches. The young, with their tell-tail stubby tail feathers, suitable for close quarters in the nest, still with the low raspy call of a nestling demanding food – always accompanied by the anxious adult shepherd with their long graceful tail & higher, piercing call.

A nuthatch came to the seed feeder yesterday, followed by another who watched from the tree, followed by a third – half the size of the adults. A young fledgling learning life outside the nest from her parents.

I’ve felt especially sympathetic to the nestlings this spring, as I cuddle close a young fluffy-headed chick of my own.

Avian springtime

Pelicans at Astotin Lake at Elk Island National Park yesterday – soon to move on. Redwing Blackbird nestlings, judging from the adults’  tenacious & raucous herding of a crow along the shoreline.

Merlins from our block mating last week.

Magpie nestlings in backyard spruce for the past 2+ weeks.

Downy Woodpecker nestlings in front yard rowan trunk for at least a week – first heard them Sunday. The parents have been industriously emptying our bird feeder for the past week or more, in that busy “I’ve got hungry mouths to feed” sort of way. The male is a little scruffy guy.

woodpecker nest

Woodpecker Nest Entrance – A Perfect Circle

My, My Blackbird, Oh my

Here is a guest post from my mother, a fellow northern prairie dweller.

Reading at the kitchen table, a movement out the window drew my eyes to the bird feeder. He’s so big compared to the usual visitors; the finches, sparrows and chickadees, that I’m startled. There’s a catch plate attached to the bottom of the cylindrical feeder and he clung to its edge, flapping black wings to keep balanced, his purple head shimmering. He has to stand upright so he doesn’t bump the feeder. He started circling on the plate’s rim, eyeing the cylinder up and down. Almost losing his balance once, he flapped his way back into position.  He looked around as if asking for assistance. “What’s the attraction here, boys, and how on earth do you get anything out of this thing?” Without doubt, the dainty little regulars were keeping well out of the way. Finally he looked closer at the holes and peered in with one eye. Hesitating, he scanned around, then poked in an experimental first try. He snagged a large seed and dropped it. Not to his taste apparently. After three more tries, he finally swallowed his catch, a small seed, and flew away. Perhaps he was disgruntled at such paltry earnings, or maybe his legs were tiring of the awkward position. His selective picking reminded me of a different style of feeding by blackbirds at a different time of year.


Last summer the blackbirds visited the birdfeeder often. In early summer it was obvious they were feeding a family. They launched onto the catch plate and plunged at the holes with desperation, grasping and swallowing great mouthfuls with no regard for what they caught. It all went down the throat and after loading up as much as they could hold, they’d bolt off; a frantic pace to satisfy a growing, demanding brood. 

Without ever seeing a nest, I knew when the young had left to fend for themselves. After a couple of weeks of wild feeding, the adults assumed a much calmer demeanor, cruising in casually to the feeder. They scanned it carefully like experienced connoisseurs and then withdrew a couple of chosen seeds before lazily spreading wings for another favorite diner on their route. I wonder if our new friend of this morning knows the future ahead of him.


marauder and defender

This morning a raven, or very large crow, visited my neighbour – the magpie nest. It was accompanied by an entourage of one or two smaller crows. A dozen magpies gathered to drive it away, although their efforts seemed to be ineffectual. The raven was not intimidated and settled at the side of the nest. Magpie nests are hooded, which must make them easier to defend – buying the defenders some time to drive the intruder away. The raven wasn’t deterred, and moving aside a branch from the top of the nest, plunged its beak into the nest several times.

After the raven flew away, mama magpie checked the nest, then gently shooed the magpie warriors away from her nest. The pair hung around the nest afterward, occasionally flying to it to peer inside.

A couple of hours later the raven returned. Instantly nearly 20 magpies materialized from nearby trees to defend the nest. The raven landed at the nest, then soon retreated this time… perhaps finding no treasure left.

Magpies will do a ‘take two’ if the first clutch fails. These two haven’t abandoned this nest – they’ve continued to busily tend to it throughout the day.


I was delighted to see the friendly neighbourhood magpie couple decided to build this year’s nest in the rowan  tree outside my front window – prime armchair viewing location. I suspect this is the pair that has nested for the past two summers in our neighbour’s backyard spruce.

This year they salvaged twigs from a nest several years old in another trunk of the same rowan, as well as hunted for any other available loose branches. It was interesting to see the struggle it is to manoeuvre long twigs through tree branches, using only a beak. Forward, left twist, back… got it!

One tended to be the collector who brought the hard-won goods to the other at the nest, who took each and tucked it away in just the right spot – the master builder. It was like watching new parents-to-be assemble their Ikea crib, “ok, now hand me part n… there should be four of them…”

Over three weeks the new nest transformed from a thin collection of sticks to a respectable plump, round bundle in the crook about two-thirds up the tree.

It has been completed for a few weeks now. Earlier today I saw both sitting together, and now I see only one, sitting across from the nest in the “next door” tree, facing attentively toward his new nursery. I wonder if it holds its treasures yet…

Friendly neighbourhood magpies

A pair of magpies frequent the rowan tree outside my window.

One morning this winter they were huddled together on a branch, their white breasts gleaming together in the sunlight.


I often see one silhouetted atop a spruce in the distance – a striking tree-topper.

Last month I saw one of them struggling to remove a branch from the abandoned magpie nest in the rowan, and fly with it across the street to a tree in the alley – an early sign of spring!

Three weeks ago this pair were chasing a harassed little red squirrel through the rowan tree (all our squirrels are little and red).

Today a blue jay alighted in the tree with what appeared to be a peanut shell in its mouth. Before long this pair arrived on the scene and chased the jay around the yard and out of sight.

Spring cleaning

The sun is especially warm today and the backyard filled with spring-like sounds of dripping water and bird song. A dozen chickadees twitter and flit from a large puddle in the icy garden to the oak branches above, busily grooming.