Peanut Time at the Critter Ranch
By Gene Wilburn
It’s early August here in Port Credit and the summer heat is setting in, along with thunderstorms and threats thereof. All in all it’s not the scorcher we usually get, at least not yet. At this time of year I notice a distinct seasonal change in the critters that inhabit, or visit, our back yard.
Several of the avian species are done nesting and some of them are priming for their migratory trip south. For the past week or so the grackles and redwings have begun flocking together, combing the ground for the birdseed I scatter along the back fence. These two species frequently intermingle at the bird bath where they indulge in group drinking and bathing.
The house sparrows, always cheeky and chirpy, like group bathing as well, and are responsible for splashing out most of the bird bath water by the end of day. A pair of catbirds sneak in for drinks occasionally, and the year-round residents, the blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and goldfinches put in regular appearances. The squirrels drink from it and even the chipmunks manage to jump high enough to reach the top and sip a drink.
Perhaps it’s the critters’ inner timing and they know the summer is coming to an end. They’re all voracious, and go into an eating frenzy when I toss out peanuts. As the peanuts cascade onto the ground sounding like miniature maracas, the squirrels come down from the higher branches and the chippies come from all directions, guided by the sound.
The squirrels and chippies are always eager peanut eaters but I was surprised that the grackles and redwings are too. The cardinal pair is more dainty. They take a single peanut and fly somewhere where they can break it into small pieces and dine on those, Timbit style. The blue jays fly into the branches over my head and squawk a bit if I’m going too slow. They then swoop in to take two or three, sometimes four, peanuts. They prefer to take them off the back deck and delight in taking them out of the planter baskets where I always stash a few for the squirrels and chippies to find. But they leave behind a lot of easy pickins. They’re not as greedy as the grackles.
The squirrels get their share, though they are at a partial disadvantage in the ensuing free-for-all. They stop to eat theirs until they’re sated, then they carry off a few to bury and hide. But they have to contend with the chipmunks who hoover their way through the melee, stuffing three peanuts at a time into their cheek pouches. They whiz off to their burrows, stash them, then come back for more, in a flash. Chippies are A-type personalities when it comes to their favourite foods.
Algonquin Park this ain’t, but for an old codger living in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area, this daily feeding and watering of the critters, many of whom have become very friendly toward me, puts a smile on my face. There are few things more terminally cute than a chipmunk eager for a peanut fix.