If anyone ever tells you that taking up bird feeding is a restful, calming pastime, know this: they are lying through their beaks.
This spring, I decided to hang a bird feeder in my backyard. A shop dedicated to all things fowl opened up in my neighborhood and I was immediately seized by an avian fever no vaccine could quell.
Shopkeeper in tow, I perused the various feeding options. Large feeder or small? Glass, plastic or metal? Modern clear tube or more traditional house? What was the best squirrel-foiling technology? The possibilities and choices seemed endless.
And, then there was the food. Based on my experience, I’ll never use the word “birdseed” to describe anything inconsequential again. There’s a dizzying array of seed available, mixed and sorted depending on the kind of bird you aim to attract. If you want songbirds, you choose one mix. If you want cardinals or bluebirds, choose another. Birds, apparently, are picky eaters, even when their food is delivered, buffet style, with no effort required on their part other than to show up.
After much deliberation, I took home a plastic cylinder feeder that pulled apart for easy cleaning, with a large platter-like attachment to catch falling seed. As for the birdseed itself, I chose a rather scattershot mix, aimed at appealing to a wide range of beaky palates. I took my new prize home, filled it, hung it up, and then waited for the hungry flocks to arrive.
And I waited. And waited. A week went by. Two weeks. Three. A month. Two months. There were no birds. The level of seed in the feeder didn’t budge a micrometer. I began to worry about mould. I hadn’t expected my backyard to become a scene out of Snow White, with birds singing gaily, perching on my head and plucking at my hem, but this was ridiculous. Where were they?
Then, after I had almost given up and taken the feeder down (I was tired of seeing it every day, hanging there and mocking my failure to attract anything feathered) I caught a flutter out of the corner of my eye as I passed the window. I looked again, and there, perched on my feeder and happily poking through the seed was a bird. An actual bird! Nothing terribly impressive. Not a cardinal, bluebird or speckled warbler, but a bird nonetheless. A little whitish brownish bird who just seemed to love the seed I had so painstakingly chosen.
And then that little bird must have told all his friends about the new seed joint that had opened down the block, because soon my backyard was a thriving hotspot of feathered activity. Within days, my yard was full of birds. My feeder was always occupied with at least two birds, with another half dozen or so waiting in line on the fence around the yard. When one bird was done and left, another flew in to take its place. It was all very orderly
There were lots of birds like my first official customer, but others as well. I loved them all but especially a strikingly yellow bird who came when the rest of the throng had departed. I kept an eye out for him in particular, but, truthfully, I liked all my visitors.
Yes, I had a thriving little feeding enterprise going. But, success can be a bad thing, even when it comes to bird feeding.
What I hadn’t counted on was the Songbird Mafia.
About a month into my feeding operation, I got up one morning to find three fat little birds sitting in the platter at the base of my feeder. These were not my usual customers. They were wild and rough looking, and occupied my feeder like it was now their private hangout, like Tony Soprano’s gang sitting outside Satriale’s. These were bad, bad birds, and I dubbed them the Songbird Mafia.
Most distressingly, they were scaring away all the other birds. Some tried to land but they were shooed away. My poor yellow bird tried in vain to settle on one of the top feeding posts, but he was too agitated to eat. He flew off without having pecked up even one bite.
I was horrified. I’d worked so hard to create a welcoming environment for my birds, a respite from their weary day of foraging and pecking. Only to have it ruined by these interlopers. Soon, the sounds of chirping faded from my backyard and the birds stopped coming. And just when I’d started seriously pondering what I should offer in terms of a protection payment, the Songbird Mafia left too. A sad stillness settled on my backyard.
But, I still kept the faith and the feeder full. “If you hang it, they will come,” I told myself. I began my watchful vigil again, this time, though, knowing it was only a matter of time.
And then, last week, I caught another flutter at my window. I looked out and my little yellow bird was back. And he wasn’t alone. He’d brought his equally beautiful mate to eat at my feeder. I was happy and honored.
The birds have slowly returned, and there is no sign, as yet, of the Songbird Mafia, though I’ve prepared for that eventuality. I’ve promised all the acorns from my oak tree this year to the head of the Squirrellini family in exchange for security around my feeder.
“Goldfinches at feeder” suzkempe @ Flickr. com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.