Deer Lodge, Montana: Pam’s Backyard Aviary

Wherever my wife goes, there go the critters. Pam’s backyard aviary in Deer Lodge, Montana, took her roughly two months of residence to cultivate. We live in town now, not off grid in the country, with the property fully fenced. It’s not a place you’d expect to see larger wild animals like deer, javelinas, or even coyotes–though we did see a blacktail doe calmly grazing right in the middle of the municipality, early one evening, next to the grain elevator.

There’s a clue. You don’t find grain elevators in major cities these days, so yes, Deer Lodge is a relatively small western Montana town, population three thousand and change. The Clark Fork River, which ran through our ranch west of Drummond when I was growing up, also runs through Deer Lodge. And there are cottontail rabbits in the area, larger versions of the desert cottontails of southern Arizona and not half as cute.

But still, a town. Asphalt, concrete, houses and vehicles.

None of which hinders the birds in the least. Pam puts out a bowl of cereal or other bird-friendly grain based food on a daily basis. Another bowl holds water, so feathered friends who come to visit can eat, drink, and should they choose to do so, even take a bath.

All of the photos on this page were taken this morning when the light was good. Sparrows galore, blackbirds, some unidentified species, one flashy black-and-white magpie, and of course the bossy black bullies of the back yard, the crows.

One crow in particular is downright mean, aggressively jump-pecking toward a tiny sparrow if the much smaller bird fails to flee quickly enough.

The other birds mostly vacate the premises when the crows show up. They know bad actors when they see them. So does Pam; if she could screen out the crows entirely, she would, but it’s necessary to tolerate a few bad actors along with enjoying all those who have better manners. The blackbirds, still much larger than the sparrows, seem to get along with them just fine. But a crow is a crow is a crow.

Still, mated pairs do seem to love each other. If this next photo doesn’t say “couple,” I’m not sure what it does say.

“Yes, dear, I’m paying attention.”

It’s impossible to photographically capture the massive number of birds feeding in the back yard at any one time; the camera just can’t grasp the impact perceived with the naked eye. Camaraderie at the bowl, though? Yeah, we can do that.

Sparrows plus one unidentified species.

Birds of a feather chow down together.

Pam had a huge fan club composed of as many as a dozen ravens at our home in Arizona (off grid). We haven’t seen any ravens show up, though, so that leaves the crows as by far the biggest birds in the yard. If I were one of the smaller birds, I’d yield the right of way to these guys when they showed up, too.

All the other birds knows where the crows goes…or something like that.

One reason I hadn’t written about any of our Montana birds until now was the simple fact that I hadn’t managed to get any pictures of a magpie. They don’t frequent the desert country near the Mexican border in southeastern Arizona, but in western Montana, they’re pretty much everywhere. You may have heard the term, “chattering like a magpie.” It’s true; they really do chatter, a ch-r-r-r–r sound that carries a fair number of decibels and reminds me, in some ways, of a noisy squirrel in a tree.

I’ve come to really listen for that magpie sound. They’re amazingly tame around here; I was outside yesterday, working on the remodeling of the porch’s west wall in plain view of the food bowl less than thirty feet away, when a magpie flew in and chowed down. It didn’t seem to be worried about me one little bit despite the fact that all the other birds had vacated the premises the moment I opened the door.

Magpie seen from the front.

Stepping out.

No one else contesting the bowl.

Diving for chow in the neighbor’s yard, which has longer and greener grass. Unidentified species in background.

Pam spends a fair amount of time in the enclosed back porch each day, often just gazing out through the glass door or one of the windows, watching the birds do their thing. It’s by far the greatest form of entertainment she has currently. I continue to work on remodeling the porch so that by the time the snow flies this year she will have a mostly insulated, weather proof, heated place to sit.

When we say our back yard is for the birds, we mean it as a good thing.