We haven’t had any deer, quail or wolverines move into our backyard — yet.
Not that they were going show up at our house on the outskirts of Seattle, but last year we more or less invited critters in by putting up those “certified wildlife habitat” signs you can get when you tack up some birdhouses and feeders, put out a bowl of water, and swear off all use of pesticides, herbicides, etceteracides.
Yes, it’s true, we hunters — even us hunting-magazine editors — have a softer side; to read about how I got involved in the whole deal, read this.
Figure it’s also a good and easy way to remind the boys there’s more to the world than asphalt and YouTube.
I can report that we now have a family of crows that frequents our yard — they peck through all the grass Amy’s digging out to make way for more native shrubberies and whatnot — and from time to time we get unexpected visitors.
As I did the dishes one evening about a month and a half ago, a concerned man appeared at our kitchen window. He told us that a bandtail pigeon chick had left/fallen out of its nest at the corner of our street and a busy avenue. He said he turned to us because he thought we’d know what to do since we had that backyard wildlife sign on our fence.
So we went over, watched the chick sun itself at the base of a Doug fir, scanned the sky for its parents, used mental jujitsu to ward off a neighbor’s lurking cat, made a phone call or two then decided to go back inside and hope the bird had enough good sense not to fly in front of all the traffic.
A short while later and back on KP, I looked up and there at the window were five more concerned people — two guys, and a mother and her two kids — and the bandtail.
The bird had flown into the street right in front of the guys’ car. They all saw our sign, figured we knew what to do, and came a’calling.
To stay within the law and avoid getting in trouble with WDFW as a “baby snatcher,” fledglings should be left where they are, but with the busy streets and several outdoors cats that prowl near the nest, Amy and I made an executive decision to take the bandtail and deliver it to PAWS the next morning.
(It did well and was released back into the wild soon after.)
All of our neighbors went away that evening interested in getting into backyard wildlife; one of the guys stopped by a couple weeks later to say he’d signed his postage-stamp lot into the program.
AT FIRST I WAS A BIT DISAPPOINTED that all we mainly saw in our yard were crows. It felt a bit like a part of one of River’s books about three time-traveling geologist kids who go back to the Ice Age and all they see are plain old coyotes — the same canids they’ve already got around their hometown — instead of great beasts like the four-horned Quentin’s pronghorn and the giant bison latifrons.
I was also still holding a grudge against crows from last year when some raided a different bandtail nest just to our west.
The wild pigeons were smacked hard by market hunting in the early 1900s, and their numbers still only allow for a short season with a maximum take of 18 birds in Washington.
But two weeks ago Dad sent me that new book by the U-Dub’s corvidologist, John Marzluff, and writer/illustrator Tony Angell, and since then I’ve begun to cock my head at crows a bit differently.
A couple weeks ago I watched the aforementioned family wander around our yard in search of food. Two were clearly smaller than the other pair, so I assumed it was Ma & Pa Crow teaching the young’ns the ins and outs of bug and worm hunting.
Then two Saturdays ago I saw some really unusual crow behavior. I’ll admit to being slightly hungover at the time, but I swear one crow picked a pink object out of our lawn, waddled through the grass, onto the walk and hopped up the steps before setting it down at our front door.
It was kinda freaky because I’d just read in Gifts of the Crow about the birds “gifting” things to people.
I couldn’t tell you if this was gifting or just telling us to keep the yard in better shape — I think the latter.
The pink object wasn’t a piece of the boys’ chalk or a steelhead drift bobber, but one of Amy’s ear plugs. Must’ve dropped out of her bathrobe, but she thinks the dog carried it outside.
AHH, THE PUP, NYOKI, THE AUSTRALIAN LABRAKITA we brought home this past winter.
She’s done her best to counteract our goal of a natural yard.
Know how the Pacific is said to be full of nurdles, those tiny chunks of broken down plastic water bottles, etc.?
Our yard’s kinda become the land-based equivalent.
The dog has popped and gnawed through several soccer balls, two kid-sized basketballs, several smaller balls, numerous plant containers, a frisbee, lots of foam, cardboard, some other items and, oh yes, several of her officially approved chew toys.
(To be fair, the boys have also contributed to the nurdlization, having lost a number of big and little Legos to the lawn and lawnmower.)
Nyoki’s also part black bear, I think, having recently girdled our aspen — currently still in the ER with a grafted-on branch “bridge” around the chewed-on section — gnoshed on the pear tree and nibbled on our Japanese maple.
You can imagine how I spent part of this past weekend — wrapping tree trunks in protective chicken wire.
The dog chases squirrels and darts ineffectually at the large variety of birds that hit up our three feeders. We’ve seen robins, varied thrushes, purple finches, chickadees and juncos come by; as I contemplated a recent drizzly morning a flicker peered into the house from the gutter.
This spring Amy relocated some of our birdhouses to make them perhaps more inviting. As she was about to take the one on our hemlock tree down she discovered bumblebees had made it their new home.
Much better than the yellow jackets that I’ve had to, ahem, “strongly encourage” several times to not take up residence underneath the eaves.
We had also planned on building bat condos, but in the end we just bought a house and erected it over our fence. Like our wildlife signs, the bathouse is a good conversation starter with people walking by, though the only bat I’ve seen so far is one that flew around our yard one warm twilight last summer.
EVERY SO OFTEN DUCKS PASS BY OVERHEAD, and while we’ve got stiff competition to the south of us from the Witkowskis who feed hundreds a day through the winter, I wonder if the boys and I might not pull some birds in to our new “ponditat.”
Hunker in the hammock River and Kiran, let them have the calls, throw some dekes out in the 3-foot-by-7-foot-by-3.5-foot-deep goldfish bowl Amy and I built and see if we can’t bring ‘em in.
Might give the pond some much-needed life.
We’ve put about 20 fish into it, but for several weeks it’s been unclear if any still live. Despite the $300 filter and pump, the water’s pretty green these days.
For all I know, the goldfish are the reason the crow family started hanging around — John Marzluff mentions people witnessing the birds fishing on Lake Washington.
That would be a problem — nobody gets to poach my fish.
But as it turns out, when Amy drained half the pond away this weekend, there at the bottom we discovered the spectral darting shapes of a well-fed school of multicolored goldfish.
We still have a lot of work to go on our yard. Those nonnative devil plants, yuccas, keep popping up where I’ve already taken them out. And I still hold out hope for deer, quail and wolverines. But for now, birds, bumblebees and the occasional question about the backyard wildlife program from the neighbors is just fine.
Postscript (July 9, 2012): Two crows had the temerity to scold me last night after we returned from a five-day camping trip and walked through “their” backyard.