Ten years ago, we gave up a country home overlooking the Finley River. The place had outstanding habitat, and our yard list exceeded 100 bird species. However, the need to simplify, to reduce fuel consumption, and to make our life as parents of active children easier provided just the impetus we needed to leave our fixer upper and relocate in a subdivision just one mile from our workplace.
Coming from a 70's "back to the land" mindset, the transition to urban habitat was a shock. I witnessed firsthand the destruction of farm acreage and the accompanying exodus of species. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Eastern Bluebirds, Dickcissels, Horned Larks, Savannah Sparrows, Northern Bobwhite, and Eastern Meadowlarks dominated the area in our first year, but disappeared quickly as home construction turned the Bingham farm into a scarred landscape filled with houses in various stages of construction. Although the convenience of living near work and school justified our move, our thoughts turned to how we could environmentally adjust to this lifestyle.
It was not long after we planted native trees and plants in our yard that we began to see the new avian residents appear. First came the House Finches and Chipping Sparrows, following by an occasional Cardinal, then Chickadees, Titmice, and Downy Woodpeckers. The new yard list is coming along. I even had a January Eastern Phoebe a couple years ago.
Of course, the grassland birds of previous years were among the first on the yard list. An occasional Eagle and other raptors soared overhead, and a Cooper's Hawk scouted out our feeder. The urban habitat was great for Purple Martins, and their laughter and social gatherings have entertained us each summer since our move, as their numbers have correspondingly increased. A Great Horned Owl perched atop a two story home this past summer.
But enough rambling, I have decided that for the current irruption of Pine Siskins, I have prime habitat. The flock has increased to 20+ birds/day and they are truly a joy to watch. Their aggressive nature makes them easily approachable, and assures that less desireable species such as Starlings, House Sparrows, and House Finches are at least kept in check. In the past, I have had trouble here with thistle seed becoming stale and unappetizing to my other finches, but there is no way that's going to happen as long as the siskins are in town. They gobble up the stuff like there is no tomorrow, waiting in nearby branches as I refill the feeders, and alighting on them immediately upon my departure from them. I find myself staring at the spectacle each time I glance out into the yard to see them.
Yesterday I drove only one mile from my subdivison home to Garrison Spring, a beautiful spring and surrounding forest, preserved remarkably through times of rapid growth and development. Ernie and Mary Lou Braswell, the landowners, are strong conservationists, and always have multiple full feeders for the birds. I was sure that they would have tons of siskins at the feeders, and I wanted to remind them to sort through their Goldfinches to discover them. But, guess what?
They are among the siskinless in Missouri. Reading on the listserv Mo-Birds, I have found that many birders with feeding stations in traditionally great habitat have failed to attract Pine Siskins. At the same time, other "subdivision" feeders are attracting them in large numbers. So, for today, I am happy with my meager habitat, although I still long for the Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, and Evening Grosbeaks that frequented my run-down, but beautiful, Linden home. (Nov. 11 edit: I stand corrected. Ok, maybe frequented is an exageration for my one time sighting of EVGR) I can only hope, that maybe this year, they will find their way to my town feeders in my gradually improving habitat.