A sudden fluttering drew my eye, and just like that the winter-frozen deck was alive with little birds, perhaps a dozen of them. They were showy, unfamiliar, and they were clustered around a potted grass that had gone to seed and not yet been cut back. They didn’t cheep or twitter, and they seemed enraptured by the grass.
At first I was confused, as I thought this little female was gathering stems for her nest, and it definitely isn’t nest-building time. The avian band was mainly males, and I thought it ironic that she was working while the guys just hopped around.
But then I realized that the rest of the birds were taking turns stripping seeds from the grass, hopping up to grab a stem in their beaks, then holding on as gravity pulled them downwards and the seeds fell in a shower around them.
They were calm, efficient, unafraid, having flown in from who knows where to stop at our house for lunch, unannounced. I had never thought of that particular grass as a part of the food web, but the birds had found it and recognized it and feasted on it in the time it took me to grab my camera.
They gazed at me darkly as they ate, ignoring the clicking of the camera, and I kept Beppo and Zazou away from the window so as not to spoil the birds’ lunch. And then a Big Bird came into view, a whirlybird, and as the downwash of sound from the helicopter’s passage reached their ears, the birds were gone as suddenly as they had appeared.
The magic of Google Images told me that they were Dark-Eyed Juncos, and although they’re supposedly a very common bird, I’ve never seen them before. But I like their poetic name, and I like the fact that a grass I planted five or six years ago, planted only for its feathery beauty, is still so inviting that it causes dark-eyed strangers to drop in for lunch.