It is an odd thing to turn and see a flicker on the beam outside my window staring at me, staring past the jay eating seed in the hanging container and right at me. He flew away when I noticed him. Curious, that. I did put out a more varied selection of seed for the animals in response… they can get demanding. Flickers have those rather sharp beaks so a person doesn’t want to mess around with those.
They are not the dominant birds however. Over the months I’ve noticed the fauna hierarchy. Chipmunks and juncos coexist rather well. Nuthatches travel together with the juncos and chickadees always form orderly lines for their food or baths. Squirrels and jays have a fractious relationship with the dominant depending on the context. Squirrels will shoo away a jay on the ground or ledge but in the branches I’ve seen squirrels harassed to no end.
The flicker is an independent sort who, because of his size, tends to go where he wants, even if with a bit of a clueless attitude as to how he’s relating to the other little beasties. The chickadees and chipmunks don’t seem to mind the flicker but will move if the flicker wants to land right where they are standing.
Jays are fractious with everyone, including themselves, even though like a street gang they travel in small groups. They are social but with a constant assertion of dominance underlying it all. When the jays come, the chipmunks leave, the chickadees aren’t as comfortable and the juncos go the saplings.
The flicker becomes watchful, though will push away a jay in her apparent cluelessness at times. Most of the other birds come in their own flocks and the squirrels and chipmunks can often be seen doing their own thing by their lonesome. The flicker is almost always around when other birds are around. He’s like the big awkward oafy kid who likes the interaction but isn’t very good at it. This isn’t quite right because, of course, a flicker is a beautiful and graceful bird. But, socially it seems awkward more than shy.
The chickadees aren’t really shy at all, not about anything. Stand near the birdbath and a chickadee will land in it, take its daily bath, without a care you are standing two feet away.
A shy bird around people but not around other beasts is the acorn woodpecker. When a woodpecker flies in, usually announcing itself with a plaintive call, the other birds keep their distance. You can see the authority in the woodpecker’s serious mien. This is a bird who takes no gruff. All the seed eating birds and beasts let it have its time on the balcony. I would too. I’ve had one stare at me, challenging me it seems to make the slightest comment. I didn’t. Generally, only one woodpecker comes at a time, though in places they really like one can see them gathered in a large group.
There’s a house down the street riddled with woodpecker holes. It’s someone’s vacation house so rarely occupied. When empty the woodpeckers claim it as their own, and I have learned to be as wary about walking near that house as I would be about walking in south Los Angeles. The birds stop their pecking and stare, and call, and fly closer. Not like swallows who will dive bomb in a collective cloud anyone who approaches their nests, more like sentries who will fly to a near branch and ask me what I’m about.
“Just walking by,” I say.
“Carry on, and quickly,” they reply. “There ain’t nothing to see here.”
And I listen. Never ignore the warnings of anything with a sharp implement and a bright red head.
So, among those who come for seed there are the chipmunks and small birds at the bottom, then the jays and squirrels. The flicker is near the top though without any arrogance or awareness of the fact. The woodpecker is aware and confident and arrogant about getting what she wants.
We have ravens too, a fair number. Ravens are in a different category. They are likely the smartest animal on the mountain, excepting of course the human population, or at least some of the human population. They can fly, know they can fly, enjoy the fact they fly and really have no regard for anything or anyone so base as to not be able to fly. Though, they do have a curious interest in dogs, wild or domestic. People, however, they notice with a clear disdain because we have to drive and go to the supermarket and can’t enjoy the joys of a good uplift. You can see it in their eyes. They aren’t impressed with what we can do and really have no regard for us.
Other birds keep their distance from the ravens for the simple reason that ravens are opportunistic at every point and will eat whatever is convenient. Jays will raise a ruckus but won’t get too near. I had a recording of a raven that I played while a jay was on my balcony. It was like a cartoon. I played it and the jay leaped into the air and for a moment seemed to forget how to fly, it stumbled in the air managing to make it to a branch, looking around like it had been hit by unexpected lightning.
Ravens are big birds and fly like no one’s business making acrobatic twists and turns which would make a WWI flying ace jealous. If I hear ravens cawing nearby I always give a look around. They are superb coyote spotters you see, and will follow a coyote harassing him and announcing his presence to the neighborhood. I’m not sure if they do this for a safety reason or because they realize coyotes are smart enough to be annoyed and there is nothing a raven enjoys more than a good teasing.
One would think hawks are higher on the totem pole but they don’t seem to be. In fact I watched a hawk land on the top of a nascent totem pole in the village and have a good look around. Two ravens, flying in exactly like two intercepting jet aircraft, in perfect wingman formation, came from somewhere nearby within minutes and starting swooping on the hawk, driving it from its perch and way away over the lake. A while later the two of them came back, flying in formation again and went to wherever they keep lookout.
Then there is the sight of seeing a large raven on San Miguel Island in actual aerial combat with a hawk, entailing air to air contact, somersaults, inverted dives and extended talons.
So, ravens and hawks are near equals with ravens getting an advantage because of numbers and hawks for sheer weaponry.
I saw a bald eagle yesterday and there is no doubt that this bird is at the very top of the hierarchy. It is said that bald eagles are being restored to the channel islands to drive off the occupying golden eagles. The golden eagles eat the island fox, an endangered species, and the bald eagles eat fish, not endangered. But golden eagles are intimidated by bald eagles so will give them space, thus saving the island fox.
Ravens give the eagles space as well. Ravens are playful birds, willing to harass just about anything for a good laugh. Whenever I see a hawk around there will always be ravens coming in to bother it. The eagle landed on top of a tree a hundred feet over me and perched there watching the world. Two ravens flew over, and I kid you not, saw the eagle, went higher in altitude and kept on their merry way. They were quiet, and seemed to be anxious to keep on going wherever it is they were going. Bald eagles do not appreciate jokes or bother and ravens are quite aware of this.
Now a jay eats seed on the balcony, a chipmunk gambols on the ground, stopping to consider a bit and swish his tail in meditative emphasis. The saplings seem empty but a moment’s notice will reveal a rather large bit of movement among the branches as juncos bounce around in their constant busyness.
I sit inside and write and consider and hope and pray. I also watch, because watching and noticing the world about brings renewed thanksgiving and delight. May I keep watching and stay thankful, for in doing that my soul rises to heaven.