For the Birds Radio Program: Russ's Cherry Tree
Russ’s Cherry Tree
Ten or twelve years ago, Russ and I planted a cherry tree in our backyard, and a few years later planted a second one. They’ve been producing enough cherries for pies and other desserts, plus some for the birds. Cherries are probably the most popular fruit around. Cedar Waxwings return in spring when the cherry blossoms are opening, and spend a few days pigging out on the petals, as hummingbirds go straight to the center of the flowers to sip nectar.
After the blossoms fade, a Black-billed Cuckoo occasionally skulks in the dense branches, picking off caterpillars. It’s a wonderful service, but cuckoos seem to prefer doing their work without acknowledgment of any kind, apparently believing that dining on succulent lepidopteran larvae is enough. My backyard Song Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows occasionally sing in one of the trees or pick at bugs or just sit around in the branches.
Then the fruits start developing and ripening, and suddenly a whole rainbow of birds turn up—jays, robins, waxwings, a few early warblers, and even on one lovely day a flock of Evening Grosbeaks. Baby Blue Jays and robins are fledged and flying about by the time the cherries ripen, and the babies spend a lot of time in the tree, begging from their parents and learning how to eat the cherries all by themselves, too. Watching the babies is a treat—they seem utterly absorbed in the big world around them, tasting every little thing, and quickly learning what is edible and what isn’t. Robins and jays are mortal enemies during the nesting season, when parent jays rob robin nests of eggs and babies to feed their own hungry brood, but these babies don’t seem to have a clue about the cruelties of life sitting in the midst of so much luscious, ripe fruit. How could such innocent babies even imagine a time of year when there isn’t such abundance?
My chipmunk couldn’t help but notice all the commotion, and now he climbs up the tree and gingerly, even clumsily, inches his way out on the slender branches toward the cherries. For all the trouble he seems to have negotiating his way through the tree, he is surprisingly selective, sniffing a dozen cherries for each one he actually stuffs into his cheeks. Chipmunk cheeks are more versatile than a Blue Jay’s gular pouch—I watch as the chippy with stuffed cheeks suddenly comes across something he eats on the spot. Jays have to empty their pouch to swallow, but chipmunks clearly don’t.
My neighborhood doesn’t have a lot of starlings, but suddenly the ones we do have fill the cherry tree branches. Starlings are skittish, so just cranking open the window usually chases them away without scaring the other birds. From my home office computer desk I can both hear and see the action. I spend more time than I should looking out the window instead of working. But that’s what summer is all about—taking it easy, enjoying the fruits of our labors and sharing them with others.