Thursday, June 5, 2014

How Do They Know These Things

by Christina Carson

I can understand them relishing the suet and the cracked corn, fat and grain being natural components of their diet, but unshelled peanuts… How does a grackle know about unshelled peanuts? Yes, I know they are rather opportunistic when it comes to food, but unshelled peanuts can be tough for me to open, so I never imagined they would take them on. We had originally put a few peanuts out each day for the small group of squirrels that share the backyard with us. Then the blue jays spotted the peanuts. They wrestled with them a bit, seeming to test them for which opened easily. Next thing I knew the blue jays has learned to soak the difficult shells in the birth bath. It was about that time, I noticed the grackles snatching peanuts and doing the same thing.

Several winters back, I bought my husband a nuthatch feeder, one where the suet block is on the bottom side and the nuthatch lands in his favorite position of upside down. We watched the sparrows and chickadees watch the nuthatch, and lo and behold very soon, the sparrows and chickadees had learned how to land upside down on the nuthatch feeder. They reminded me of kids playing double dare down. They didn’t appear to feel the need to remain true to the stories we’d written about them.

Even funnier than that was an incident back in my shepherding days. To say I was as amateur when we started would have been kind. I had so little eye for sheep that I couldn’t tell one white sheep from another. Even the tiniest of spots was sufficient to get a ewe a name. Spottie had one black dot on her face and was one of the first to introduce herself. She came up to me, stuck her nose in my face as if she were nearsighted and sniffed her way across my cheeks. I guess I passed muster for we soon became friends. But the day she stole the banana peel, that was a poser. I was sitting in the pasture finishing off a banana and had the peel dangling from my fingers between my knees. I wasn’t paying attention to anything in particular until I noticed Spottie coming through the flock like a determined old shopper on $1.49 Day. She cut a swath right through her fellow females, whipped up to me, grabbed the banana peel out of my hand and kept on trucking. Now you tell me where a sheep of the northern climes comes to know about bananas.

And finally there was the weasel that lived in the nearby bush but “moused” the dairy barn for us on a regular basis. Mind you, I was not at all pleased when he shifted his diet late one spring to baby chicks and killed 49 of the 50 I was rearing, carrying each one back to the bush and neatly arranging them in some old tin cans he’d found out there. But one day when I was milking, he came in, dove down a mouse hole, came up with mouse and left. After about his third trip, curious, I went to the door to see where he was going. Our huge Komondor, Dali, was snoozing outside the back of the barn with her head resting on the skid the building sat on. The weasel ran down the skid, right over top of Dali’s snout and then shot around the side of the building and into the bush. Her head snapped up, then she leapt up and gave chase, but the weasel was long gone. Then the cheeky little beggar, just as Dali had gotten settled back down, came from the opposite direction, back over her snout and into the milking barn. Three times more he did this, and I think the last time, when she didn’t leap up but merely followed him with her eyes it was because she was as incredulous as I was. We’re talking about an eight inch weasel and a 130 pound livestock guard dog.

I believe I enjoy the animal kingdom so thoroughly because no matter where they find themselves, wild in the bush, fenced in a pasture or resident in a small back yard, it never appears to occur to them not to have fun. Ease and enjoyment is what they know with a spontaneity that thrills me. I am not sure why we see life so differently, but I do know that what one believes, one becomes. So I choose my friends more carefully these days. And since I no longer have the bush or a pasture, you’re likely to find me sitting on my back steps amongst our extended family of birds, chipmunks and squirrels. For if I am going to cultivate any beliefs at this point in my life, I want it to be theirs.


  1. Christina, I am right there with you on every point and your final conclusion. I hope someday you will sit with me on my deck and share my family of birds, chipmunks, and squirrels as we learn about Life and fun from them!