For years, we called it the “Porch Runner” because that’s exactly what it did - run across the porch, over the railings, underneath, out the other end and through the flower beds lickety-split. It rarely sat still, racing along the ground or flitting from bush to bush, often concealing itself within a dense thicket. We watched it snatch crumbs from the dog’s dish, pick small leftovers from the barbecue grill, hop through the grass flushing out bugs which it nipped in mid air, or gobble seeds from the feeder. Mostly, it scratched for a living. Using both of its large feet at once, it scratched down into moist humus, bare earth, and even snow, to uncover whatever seeds and tiny bugs it could. Often, we’d hear it rooting around before we saw it. With its dark, rusty color and streaked breast it easily blended into its surroundings.
We’ve grown accustomed to having these plain, nondescript little birds around. One spring day I took the time to trace the source of a brilliant musical song and was truly surprised to find it came from one of these dark little birds. Finally, I took the time to study it carefully and identified it - Song Sparrow. A sly little bird it is, too. Chickadees and Nuthatches pick through seeds in a small feeder at our kitchen window, dropping their rejects to the ground below. Song Sparrows nest under the porch, where it is only a couple of feet to reach this scattering of seeds. Since I keep this flower bed well weeded, it’s easy scratching here.
With small, weak feet, Swallows can barely walk on the ground, let alone catch their dinners. Each summer, we wait for their return and are elated when we finally see them swooping overhead or perching (with those tiny feet) on the power line that runs right below “their” birdhouse. My husband has built and hung many birdhouses in our yard, but each year the Violet-green Swallows claim the same one. This year, some Chickadees nested there first, causing quite a commotion when the Swallows arrived. Whether the Chickadees got their young raised or were run off we don’t know, but the Swallows ultimately reclaimed the house. Their metallic chirps echoed through the yard as they fed and reassured their young. Swallows catch their food on the wing, climbing thousands of feet up or skimming just above the surface of ponds and lakes, their short, wide mouths snapping up flying insects.
It is the season of plenty - whole families of Juncos, Goldfinches, House Finches, Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers, Flickers, Black-headed and Evening Grosbeaks, Ravens, and Crows share our space. I shed my shoes and walk across a carpet of green. Ancient cedars frame a sky of startling blue. The sun warms my back as I kneel down among color, fragrance, and buzzing bees. Nearby, an insistent noise distracts me. A young one follows behind, wings a-twitter, as the Porch Runner noisily scratches out its dance of life.