SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Cowered By Corvids
By Dave Kiffer


September 12, 2006
Tuesday AM

Ketchikan, Alaska - I can't go out on my deck anymore.

No, not because the fall weather has arrived. We have a mostly covered deck and I can sit there and watch the rain drip off the clogged gutters as well as the next guy.

I just can't use my deck because some area wildlife won't let me.

Allow me to explain.

As the oldest male of the species in our household, I am endowed with certain unalienable rights. Most importantly, I have the right to be bossed around by everyone else in the household. As you all know, if wife and son are unhappy, well then nobody is happy!

We also carry it a little further at 447 Hillcrest. If the cats are unhappy (say, for example they are hungry) then, once again no one is happy. This tends to manifest itself in 4 a.m furry alarm clocks plodding back and forth across one's previously pleasantly prone form.

They have to really work at it to make me up. I sleep so soundly (and lately) in the morning that people have been known to draw chalk outlines around me.

But eventually - when both cats are kneeding their claws into my clavicle or trying to stick their tongues up my nose - I must get out of bed to feed them.

Unfortunately, it is now not the just the indoor "pets" that commence upon regularly scheduled wake-up calls.

I've always been a bit of a softy towards the "wee creatures ('way craythures' for those of you reading along in Scotland) of the forest. Once upon a time, I actually left a carton of ice cream out for Millar Street garbage bear.

I don't want to encourage the Forest Avenue bear these days (he seems to like melons, go figure), but I have certainly been feeding the bird flocks the last several years (Madison Hardware has my bird seed container on auto-fill).

It's always entertaining - and educational - to put out some seed each spring and see what is migrating through our fair city.

Most years there are plenty of chickadees and juncos, every so often there is a kinglet or thrush or two. Of course, there are always plenty of our friends from the family Corvidae, the Steller's Jays.

This spring we saw an American Redstart feeding away on the deck. They are uncommon in these here parts, according to Robert Armstrong's seminal "Guide of the Birds of Alaska." Same with the "White-Crowned Sparrow" we saw on the deck last year. As usual, I digress.

Best of all, the deck seed "powers" what we call "Cat TV."

Basically, our cats sit on their perches for hours on end staring out the windows at the birds hopping along the deck railing. They click their teeth, meow a bit and sometimes skulk closer to the window as if they would actually pounce given half the chance. "As if" are the operative words there. The birds can take one look at our poofy house cats and recognize "hunter wannabees."

The same can't be said the prowling neighborhood cats that skulk around because of all the visiting birds. We have to shoo them away every so often.

Anyway, you're probably wondering what this has to do with the sudden inability to use my deck (besides, of course, the fact that all these visitors tend to leave their stinky little 'calling cards' about, no such thing as a pipit porta potty)?

The other morning, I was lying in bed enjoying that brief idyll of quiet before the child and the cats woke up (it was 3:59 am, so my wife had already been up for several hours. She's a "morning person.")

Suddenly, I heard this odd tapping noise. I immediately sprang into action. One of the other "inalienable rights" of the male parental unit is the tracking down of strange noises in the dark.

At first, I wondered if it might be the garbage bear checking on melon availability. But bears don't usually knock. Even the polite ones from good families.

I went upstairs. The knocking was coming from the window where the deck railing rejoins the rest of the house. It was a blue (Steller's) jay. He was clearly trying to get my attention.

Since I knew he wasn't knocking to ask to come in and use the potty, I surmised that he was interested in checking the house birdseed menu and being apprised of any daily "specials."

I put out a cupful of seed on the railing and he proceeded to act like hadn't been fed since the Chilkat River or wherever he had "summered."

I went back to bed and all was right with the world. Later that day, I left a refill on the deck.

The next morning, more tapping. This time, he had brought two or three friends. More food. More happy gullets.

As the week, went on, more jays appeared. At one point, We counted eight. They didn't just tap either. They sat in the trees and screetched. Armstrong describes it as a sharp "shack-shack-shack" or "chook, chook, chook."

It definitely wasn't the jay's well-known "whisper song" which is used in courtship. This was more of "Yo, bozo, get with the program. We're hungry. Now."

Definitely a little on "cheeky" side of things, If I do say so myself!

After several days, it became obvious that we could no longer afford to feed all the Steller's jays in Alaska (I'm sure they are either endangered or threatened, everything here is). Our seed bill was approaching our home heating oil bill.

I decided to cut the "guests" off cold turkey. They were not amused. Plenty "shacks" and "chooks." Much tapping.

So now, I must avoid going out on the deck. If I do, the jays start to circle, and Alfred Hitchcock smiles.

I hide in the dark recesses of the house (can't even be seen by the windows), and shrink away - cowered by corvids - when I hear the tap, tap, tap - cue Edgar Allan Poe! - start.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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