Let’s start with tufted titmice.
Welcome to That Nature Show, a weekly column about life in your front yard. Not that front yard. Get your mind out of the gutter and go see your doctor about that. I’m talking the grass-covered one outside your front door, in city parks, and around Baltimore County’s suburban sprawl.
In the landscaped shrubbery of your yard, around medical office parks, and mini malls there’s an unseen and unacknowledged fabulous technicolor nature show going on.
I’m not just talking about squirrels. But, seriously, answer the question: What do you know about them?
Or pigeons. Or the barbarian-like pillaging of the Baltimore County deer that ate all my expensive garden center hostas. I, a novice gardener, shook my fist at the universe. Why, god, why?
A few weeks ago I overheard what I believed to be “owls” calling to each other from what I believed to be “spruce trees,” but I was just guessing. I realized I didn’t know these plants and animals at all. My own habitat was a mystery to me.
I was suffering from the environmental illiteracy/nature deficit syndrome we worry about so much in our children with their organized sports on manicured fields, and indoor classes that deprive them of Vitamin D.
So let’s go outside, or at least look out the window at the bird feeder. Safari on the cheap with me and my kids, 6 and 8, as we explore the life and times of the animals and plants that truly are our closest neighbors.
Step one in our nature-defecit rectification program was to put up a bird feeder. One shaped like an orb was on sale at the Irvine Nature Center gift shop and Husb. installed it in the front yard. (This in itself was like watching a nature show, but I’ll save The Habits of The Suburban Male for another column. Stay tuned.)
The kids and I sat by the bay window, our noses pressed to the glass. My son, 8, asked, “When will the parade of birds start, Mom?” (To drum up interest I may have oversold the experience as a parade. What mother doesn’t manufacture enthusiasm? To get my kids to eat broccoli I tell them they are T. rexes eating trees… and it works.)
I said, “Well, it might not be a ‘parade’ pe se…but we should see some tufted titmice. They’re abundant in eastern deciduous forests,” I said, nerdily reading aloud from the Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds and forgetting my audience. “Also, maybe, the yellow bellied sap sucker.”
If you want to be taken seriously it is a big mistake to say “tit” and “sucker” in front of an 8 year old boy.
I was talking about birds, but still. The words floated out and there was no way I could get them back.
My son went limp with hysteria. He fell against the couch cushions. His laughter sounded like a bull moose trying to hold in a sneeze. (I don’t know what that sounds like since I am new to Nature, but one can imagine, right?)
“Be serious,” I said. “We’re birders.”
The first bird we identified, by way of its tufted head which is triangular like a jaunty Robin Hood cap was, in fact, a male tufted titmouse. “Titmouse! Dead ahead!” my daughter, 6, said. They are, according to my guidebook, “a frequent visitor to feeders.”
From what I have seen of their antics the titmice have personalities much like my children: they are extroverted, playful, curious, eager beavers. They are ballsy little things, peeking into our house, seeming to speak telepathically to me, Hey lady, get us some better bird seed, these black oil seeds are boooraing.
Sometimes I think the titmice are watching me with equal interest as I sip my cappuccino and watch them. What do they think of me, what’s written in the guidebook they consult, which I imagine is The Well-Meaning Suburban Mothers Of Baltimore County.
We are on the lookout now for yellow bellied sap suckers, my son, especially, because he wants to get away with saying “sucker” in a situation where I won’t admonish him for his language.
I’ll keep you posted. Until then, please send me pictures of the birds you see.