Posts Tagged ‘Grape Jelly’

Farewell Tanagers

May 24, 2010

The Western Tanagers are departing – we think. Thirty pounds of grape jelly served, countless photos made, and hours of joyous observing are benind us. Now we can get back to work and to blogging about other bird-related matters. We leave you with two great photos made by our friend Page Morgan-Draper and used with her permission.

Do Quail Eat Grape Jelly Too?

Transfixed by Tanagers

May 18, 2010

Transfixed by the Western Tanagers and heading into serious sleep deprivation, we’ve been unable to accomplish anything for the last several days because we’re so busy feeding them. We’re up to twenty pounds of grape jelly served and still they come.

But we’re not so tired that science takes a backseat to our pure joy of having all these guests. No sir. We continue in the service of science, remembering Richard Feynman’s injunction, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Science can only advance if scientists maintain a healthy skepticism and always are open to new data. Sometimes, especially in the case of lesser scientists, the data disprove a treasured hypothesis.

But for great scientists, awaiting their Nobel Prize, data often confirm their hypotheses.

You’ll remember our scientific announcement from last week, made after discovering both Bullocks Orioles and Western Tanagers love grape jelly. We announced:

Orange birds love purple food.

Now, we have new data accompanied by more photographic evidence

That is a Black-headed Grosbeak – with its orange breast – eating grape jelly! Further proof of our discovery that orange birds love purple food.

Please don’t call. We don’t want the Nobel people to get a busy signal. If the tanagers don’t leave soon, we’ll need the prize money to buy grape jelly.


For more Western Tanager photos go to Photofeathers, a friend’s new and good photo blog about her birding adventures. We’ve added the blog to our link list on the right. When you visit scroll down to see many more photos and don’t miss Love Among the Quarai Ruins. (Adults Only.)

Twilight Tanagers

May 15, 2010

Soldiers, mariners, hunters, backpackers, and birders are aware of three dawns each morning. The first is “Astronomical Twilight.” Astronomical twilight, that period each morning when the disc of the sun is between 18 degrees and 12 degrees beneath the horizon, marked by the faintest lightning of the eastern horizon. It is still much too dark for humans to move around without  supplemental illumination. Hardly any perceptible light arrives yet. It’s more a feeling than visible light. Around here, it currently begins about 4:30 A.M. and ends a bit after 5:00A.M.

Since the migrating flock of Western Tanagers arrived in our yard and we made our great scientific discovery, our days begin at astronomical twilight. The tanker truck, loaded with grape jelly, arrives then. We pump it off the truck into our two-car garage which is the only place we have large enough to contain it all. (I don’t know if we’ll ever get the garage clean again. Maybe the ants will help.)

“Nautical Twilight” arrives about the same time offloading the grape jelly finishes. Nautical twilight is that portion of the dawn when the disc of the sun is 12 degrees to six degrees below the horizon. Now fewer stars remain visible and the horizon is indistinct but discernible. It remains too dark to work outside safely, although the shapes of large objects are barely visible. Robins begin singing toward the end of nautical twilight. Western Tanagers, whose song is similar to a robin’s wait a bit longer to start their day.

We’re too busy to listen to the robins. All the jelly dishes must be retrieved and cleaned and refilled.

It’s 5:30 A.M.

Now “Civil Twilight” arrives. The sun, six degrees beneath the horizon, begins to illuminate the earth. The horizon is clear and only first magnitude stars and planets remain visible. No longer do we need flashlights to do our work for the tanagers, although flashlights remain handy. Other birds are singing and we have only a few minutes left to get the refilled jelly dishes to their appointed holders before the tanagers stir, demanding breakfast.

By sunrise, the feeders are full and we rush inside for a quick breakfast.

After breakfast we spend all the remaining daylight hours shuttling grape jelly to the feeders. One of us must also fill the hummingbird feeders, the seed feeders, and the tray feeders for our other avian guests. Additionally, photos must be taken and that requires getting close and not moving for long periods of time, which gives us time to remember Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer hiding from Jim:

There was a place on my ankle that got to itching, but I dasn’t scratch it; then my ear began begun to itch; and next my back, right between my shoulders. Seemed like I’d die if I couldn’t scratch. Well, I’ve noticed that thing plenty times since. If you are with the quality, or at a funeral, or trying to go to sleep when you ain’t sleepy [or trying to photograph birds in close] – if you are anywheres where it won’t do for you to scratch, why you will itch all over in upward of a thousand places.

Tanagers cannot live by grape jelly alone. They must have protein. Normally they get that from the bugs they eat, but one reason they are here now is the unusually chilly spring. By now they are usually in their favored habitat which is north of here and higher. They prefer coniferous and mixed coniferous forests full of pinons, juniper, Douglas Fir, and Ponderosa Pine. They also like Aspen groves, as long as the Aspen are high enough. But this cooler than normal spring may have kept them lower for longer. And we don’t have as many bugs yet either, so we supplement their grape jelly with peanuts, peanut butter suet, and orange flavored suet. They prefer the orange suet which we place just beneath the tray where the real oranges sit. Tanagers eat oranges too.

But nature is messy, so Starlings come to eat the suet and the White-winged Doves congregate on the tray feeder which has both jelly dishes and peanuts. They must be shooed away from time to time so the tanagers (and the orioles) can get to the jelly.

We doubt that the tanagers are mating yet. We do not live in their favored habitat and we see fewer females. Western Tanagers are probably monogamous, at least for one breeding season at a time, so more females are needed.

The same three twilights occur again after sunset, in reverse order, although we have no time to attend to sunsets and won’t until the tanagers leave us. We consulted an ornithologist who was in the store yesterday. He predicts that the tanagers will leave in another week or so.

We’re not up-to-date on the latest sleep deprivation research, so if any of you know how long we can go without sleep before psychosis sets in, please write.


For more on twilight, here are definitions and explanations. For calculations of each where you live, here is the U.S. Navy Observatory page to do that. You can also see the times and the world clock page.

We exaggerated a bit about filling the garage with grape jelly, but not that much. In the last five days, we’ve served twelve pounds (5.5kg) of grape jelly.

Great Scientific Discovery!

May 9, 2010

Western Tanager Watching Female Bullock's Oriole

In our times, it is not often that a lay person gets to add to the total sum of scientific knowledge. Once a “Renaissance” man might hope to do so, but those days are gone; now science advances mainly through the hard, painstaking work of real scientists, published in peer-reviewed journals. This is as true of ornithology as of any other science, although lay people do still help out with Christmas bird counts, ecological vacations, and simple observations.

So it is an exciting day when we here at the Fat Finch make a scientific discovery.

Western Tanager at the Grape Jelly

Normally, of course, we would follow the scientific method and submit our discovery to a peer-reviewed journal.  But, we’d rather share it first with you, our faithful readers. And, because we have photographic evidence to prove our discovery, we see no reason to wait to announce our discovery to the world. Here is a photo of a Western Tanager eating grape jelly. Taken yesterday, it shows a Western Tanager dipping into some grape jelly. We’ve seen both the male and the female eating the grape jelly.  (That is a White-winged Dove observing. As we’ve noted before, White-winged Doves spend their days trying to evolve. I suppose that is another of our discoveries. I don’t recall ever reading anything in a peer-reviewed journal demonstrating that some species actually attempt conscious evolution, but White-winged Doves do. This one is attempting to learn how to eat grape jelly.)

So here is our Scientific Discovery:

Orange birds love purple food.

We await the call from the Nobel Committee.


May 5, 2010

Each year, about this time, an oriole flies over our house, minding its own business, on its way somewhere when suddenly, out of the corner of its eye, it sees a bird feeder below, stuffed with grape jelly.

As we’ve told you before, orioles get whiplash when they see grape jelly. It reminds me of the very first Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip. Calvin tells his dad, “So long, Pop. I’m off to check my tiger trap.” Calvin is sure he’ll have trapped a tiger because he rigged the trap with a tuna fish sandwich and tells his dad, “Tigers will do anything for a tuna fish sandwich.” The last frame shows Hobbes the tiger upside down; dangling from the trap; eating the tuna fish sandwich and saying, “We’re kind of stupid that way.”

Orioles are the same way about grape jelly.


April 22, 2009

Reading around in The New Yorker this week, we discovered a recent article about the late novelist David Foster Wallace who is quoted in the article as believing that true freedom, “means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to.”

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock's Oriole

That seems like pretty good advice.  So this morning we chose to pay attention to the year’s first oriole arrival.  Orioles get whiplash when they fly over anything containing grape jelly which is why we keep two feeders stocked with grape jelly.  Only grape jelly please, orioles don’t care about other flavors.  They don’t mind if a fresh orange is available to but it is the grape jelly that halts them in their tracks.

The orioles are following Joseph Campbell’s advice which was to “follow your bliss.”  But “bliss” is an awfully abstract noun upon which to base a life or a philosophy.  There is not much meat on that bone. We may know what it means to an oriole eating grape jelly, but it is more difficult to translate into living a meaningful, fulfilled human life.

But Wallace had something to say about that too. He came up with a pretty good definition of bliss; writing, “Bliss — a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious.” For Wallace, that was what lay on the other side of “crushing, crushing boredom.”

You can’t be bored while watching an oriole gobble down your grape jelly; if you are truly paying attention while you watch, you’ll know a moment of bliss.

Besides, you can follow up with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for yourself.


Today marks the 39th Earth Day.  Here’s a reminder from an unknown Native American, “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.”

How To Attract Orioles, a/k/a Grape Jelly

May 26, 2008

As we have mentioned before, the best way to attract an oriole is to put grape jelly directly in its flight path. The only stronger pull for an oriole is the migration urge. They will leave you when winter draws near. But that is about all that will make one leave its grape jelly supplier.

Here is a video about other things you can do to attract one to your backyard, including what kind of feeder to buy. As always, we encourage you to buy from a local bird store. Or us. Just not from the big box stores. They don’t need the business and small birding stores do.

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