At this time of year it's a special treat to offer them fresh seed. They seem to know the difference and will choose fresh over store-bought every time. There is a general excitement around plants that just doesn't exist at the feeder.
Like anything else the task is easier said than done. If you have any of the following visiting your yard, you already know some of the challenges involved.
Chipmunks are so focused on filling up both their stomachs and their storage bins, they'll dig up every last seed you try to plant in the spring. They're expert diggers, climbers and jumpers. It's hard to stay upset with them for long. The yard would be a far duller place without their mischievous antics.
As the plants surviving chipmunk-stage get bigger, nothing is quite as enticing as a sunflower leaf for the groundhog. They'll strip the plant of all leaves and given the time, will finish the job. You'll find only a small stub of stem left where there was once a healthy, maturing plant.
If you notice disturbed earth where your sunflower used to be, chances are you've had a deer visit. Look around, you'll see the roots discarded a few feet away. Deer enjoy the flower buds, leaves and stems.
Which is why we resort to netting around our sunflower plants. You can encounter deer smart enough to stand on their hind legs and simply paw the net down, but it rarely happens here. When the flowers start showing signs of readiness, we remove the nets. The following pictures are a few of the things we enjoyed seeing this year...
When I snapped this photo I thought I was capturing a juvenile begging food from it's mother. Upon review, the bird perched on the leaf is an adult male. Judging from the ruckus he was making, he wasn't too happy. My guess, the female took his spot on the seed head and he is voicing his disapproval.
The female refuses to move, ignores the male and continues to enjoy her seed. He's none too pleased with her decision. Eventually, he does the gentlemanly thing and flies off to find seed elsewhere.
And find them he does. He eats one...mmmm
He eats another... All previous altercations forgotten, he continues to munch.
Elsewhere in the sunflower patch another male has landed. He's trying to figure out the best way to approach the seed head for a tasty treat, preferably without slipping (wouldn't want to embarrass himself in front of the ladies).
He decides on grasping at a stem so that he can then bend down to reach the seed (far left bird). You can see another male's tail to the right. He is grasping a larger seed head with his feet.
This bird is another stem grasper. He hangs upside down to reach the seed.
My favorite feeding style is one I almost missed. In fact, I had already turned off the camera and started to put the lens cap back on. This crafty little guy has found a way to get others to do all the work for him. He simply sits in a bed of vinca and waits for the seed to come to him.
Here comes one now!
Ah-Oh, what's that rustling sound? Several birds abandon the patch and seek shelter in nearby bushes and trees.
There, above one of the largest seed heads is a chipmunk lurking in the leaves.
The chipmunk makes quick work of his thievery. He has to be quick, he's heavier, his center of gravity is different and it is difficult for him to maintain his grasp on the seed head. He's soon back on the ground surrounded by a few leaves and several sunflower seeds (much to the delight of the finches).
Whether this goldfinch is fluffing his feathers in contentment, eaten a few too many sunflower seeds or dreaming of future black-eyed-susan and coneflower seed is unclear. This photo reinforces what we and many others are trying to accomplish in their yards by making them more wildlife-friendly.
Their needs are simple; food, water, shelter.
Sometimes it just feels good to give a little something back.