Greenpoint: A summer for the birds


There’s a family of phoebes living in the barn and a family of cardinals in the trees behind the wrecked shed. The babies have learned to fly, and circle in and out of their respective homes.

The phoebes like to perch on the clothesline, or fly into the tree that’s growing right next to the house so they can peer in the back window. The cardinal kids like flying into the hemlock next to the birdfeeder to see what the chickadees are up to.

I don’t know who is nesting in the row of firs that separates our yard from the neighbors’, but the yard and trees are full of robins and blue jays, finches and martins, nuthatches and titmice, swallows and swifts.


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We’ve got bald eagles circling in the afternoon, often followed by — and harassed by — a smaller hawk, maybe a sharp-shinned. We’ve got woodpeckers — downy, hairy, flickers and pileateds. We’ve got crows and ravens, and some little blackbird with a crested head that sings from the phone line down the road. I don’t know what it is.

At night there are owls and whip-poor-wills and woodcocks.

It’s a good year for the birds. Or maybe it’s just regular, but since we’re home all day we notice more. Certainly none of the birds are uncommon to us, and we always enjoy watching them around the yard and nearby woods and lake. But we seem to be enjoying their company more this year.

During the global lockdown, animals were out enjoying places normally too crowded with humans — the roads in national parks, urban plazas, harbors and parks. Even the college kid noticed that when most of the other humans left campus, the place was suddenly buzzing with birds: “I don’t think we even had birds before.”

Probably there were plenty of birds on that Vermont campus, even before 80 percent of the people left. But they were braver and more visible without the people around.

New to our yard this year is a family of gray squirrels, who have been locked in battle with me over the birdfeeder. The mother used to dive into the top of our tube feeder, tail out and head down, sucking up seeds. She defied every birdfeeder lid I invented — until I found a jar that fit snugly into the open top and filled it with water to make it too heavy for her to remove.

Now they can only get a few seeds at a time, from the holes made for bird beaks. I don’t mind sharing — I just don’t want them emptying the feeder every day.

When we first moved up here 30 years ago, there were only red squirrels — winters were too cold and we were officially out of gray squirrel range. We’ve been seeing more grays in the past 10 years, but this is the first year they’ve shared the feeder.

They look huge compared with the reds, who have taken to hiding in the woods. The chipmunks are everywhere, eating whatever everyone else drops. We seem to have more snakes than we’ve ever had, and they seem to have eaten most of the toads.


Most of us have had a chance to slow down these past months and take notice of what is always around us. My morning walks aren’t so rushed, so I can spend time watching for the beaver on the lake, or stopping to figure out which birds are singing from the trees. And I have more time to be in my own yard and the woods out back.

Working from home and never going anywhere has its perks. More walks, more family time.

And getting to spend more time with all the other creatures who live here.

Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on July 5. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Life & Arts

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