Jul 26 2010
Who was that at the bird feeder? Yet another jay? I stood at my office window, camera in hand, and my patience was rewarded: I got the photo on the right. The subject came as something of a surprise, however. Blue jays had been swarming around the woodpecker’s suet feeders for days, hewing off great chunks of fat to feed their apparently insatiable offspring. But this certainly wasn’t a jay. I’d never seen a robin show any interest in suet before. Still, robins don’t read the guidebooks, do they?
It’s easy to lump all birds of a feather together, failing to recognize that each one is an individual. Another robin, now raising her young in the hedgerow, sings a unique tune, a melody I’ve never heard before from any other robin. And now this—a robin who thinks she’s a jay. Or a woodpecker. She forages for earthworms, to be sure. But she likes cherries, too, and attacks them in much the same way a heron spears an incautious frog, shaking the fruit until it breaks into bite-sized bits and then leaving only the pit for foraging chipmunks.
The robin’s taste for cherries was the first thing to get my attention. Then one day I noticed she was watching the blue jays as they chose and ate black oil sunflower seeds. “Watching” isn’t quite the right word, in fact. The robin was observing the jays, studying their every movement. Soon she decided to give seeds a try herself. She seized one, selected a branch, and struggled to place the small seed just so, wedged firmly between foot and branch. It took her a awhile to get the knack, but she persevered, and before long she succeeded in freeing the tasty meat from its protective coat.
Having mastered this skill, the robin then turned her attention to the suet cages. She watched from the cover of the lilacs as swarms of jays chiseled great gobs of fat into their ever-open beaks.
Before long, she’d joined the jays at the suet. (The suet cakes, purchased from Nottawa Bird Supply, are clearly labeled “Woodpecker Blend,” but this apparently fools no one.) And here she is, caught with the evidence of her unsanctioned behavior still clinging to her beak:
What will “my” robin turn her beak to next? Will I find her pounding holes in the old stumps in search of grubs, as the woodpeckers do? Or will I look outside one morning to find her hanging from the sock stuffed full of niger seed, joining the finches at their breakfast? Neither would surprise me. This robin isn’t one to be hobbled by convention!