Tuesday, May 7, 2002

A Month of Feeding the Birds

The decision to move, the act of moving, and the consequences of moving could serve as the subjects of three separate chapters, and, if I don’t get a job soon, just might. Before I move on to birdfeeding, I’ll simply report one obvious irony about our actual move. We left Belmont mid-deluge. Rain poured down our driveway and lightning lit up the sky over the bay as we pulled away from our home for the last time. Forty hours later as we approached Las Piedras Island, driving through a region which boasts the wettest place on the continental United States, and is virtually synonymous with rain - the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and we felt, at least for the moment, that our decision was blessed by whatever god you want to think controls this planet’s weather.
So, we had arrived. And, what awaited us? Instructions from the previous owner’s adolescent daughters on how to feed the birds. “P.S. Chipmucks and some times squirels come and eat the Blue Jays peanuts so please put alot out.” You get the idea. They also left sugar and the recipe for hummingbird food (“NO FOOD DIE”) an ominous typo, but then birds and omens are inseparable. I took it as an omen, for instance, when we returned to the house and saw a bald eagle (really, an honest to goodness American icon bald eagle) flying through the woods east of the house and then soaring to perch on a (insert name of some large tree here) not fifty yards away. When I mentioned this to the agent, she replied (a tad cavalierly, as if eagles are no big deal!), that three eagles are frequent visitors. She then went on to relay a story about how, recently, an island resident lost their weiner dog to a bald eagle. It just swooped down and flew away with it. An amusing image, one that left me laughing too hard to ask whether it was on a leash, a question that has plagued me since. Perhaps the bird was enforcing the leash law. Regardless, there were no feeding instructions for the bald eagles, which is a relief because the cost of maintaining a pen filled with weiner dogs would prove onerous to a man on my salary. Although, training the eagles to lift weiner dogs on command and charging admission (assuming I could avoid the wrath of the SPCA) might provide the income I’m sorely lacking.
Without an occupation, keeping occupied can be a challenge. So, for that first month, feeding the birds was a welcome chore. It provided a sense of order to the day, and really, despite the incredible amount of unproductiveness characterizing March, made me feel, in some small way, productive. Nathan and I feed the Steller’s Jays in the morning (despite being categorized as Blue Jays in the daughters’ note, the book they left clearly marks them as Steller’s. I can only assume the girls were more interested in the nurturing aspect of bird feeding, as opposed to conducting an accurate ornithological study). We then either walk around the yard, getting a fair distance away from the feeding zone on the deck so the birds will feel safe enough to alight for a bite, or head inside to watch from the kitchen window. This varies in accordance with the attention span of a 16-month old little boy and his rather unmethodical unemployed father, but by and large fits the description of most mornings. By the time we have our mug/sippy cup of coffee/milk, make and eat/throw on the floor breakfast, change clothes/diapers, and get through giving peanuts to the Jays, we’re all just about ready for a nap. Sadly, not all of us can take morning naps.
Perhaps more entertaining than the Jays (although seeing Chip the chipmunk single-handedly hold off a flock of screeching birds as he attempts to consume heaping pawfuls of peanuts can be more fun than watching the cats careen around the house jacked up on a wicked catnip dose) are the hummingbirds. For one, the h-bird feeder is right by the TV, so there’s more opportunity to witness their antics than the Jays. (Get the image of the unshaven unemployed father sitting around watching the soaps, eating bonbons and gazing mindlessly out the window out of your head. We have DirecTV. I watch baseball, eat bonbons and gaze mindlessly out the window). For two, the h-birds appear to be in constant conflict with each other. This results in mini-aerial battles, as one bird will swoop in and attack another as it delicately pokes its elongated beak into the feeder. The action heated up late in the month as the numbers grew, we soon had more than four h-birds claiming our one feeder, and restocking the sugar water, which had been a fortnightly activity, now needed to be done every few days.
These hummingbirds are fascinating, and my own fascination with them has me fascinated. I’ll sit and stare out the window as they come zooming in from the woods, then they’ll hover and zip from one side of the feeder to the other, flecks of gold and flashes of brilliant red and orange appearing and disappearing with every movement. Then another will come in, randomly either peacefully taking the other side of the feeder or maliciously chasing away the first bird. I’ve seen as many as four dancing around, dodging and weaving, waiting for a place or deciding whether or not to engage one of the other birds in their flying dance. Soo seems to believe there is one Bully Hummingbird that chases the other birds away. I haven’t noticed any distinguishing features as of yet. In a lineup of hummingbirds, I don’t think I’d be able to point to number four and say, “Him, that one with the long nose and beady eyes, he’s the one.” Although, were there a hummingbird police force and hummingbird murder detectives, I might have been called down to the hummingbird stationhouse to do just that.
Last week when I went out to refill the feeder, there at my feet lay a motionless little hummingbird. It could have died of natural causes, but I’m not ruling out foul play. The odd thing about it, the thing that fascinates me about human nature or perhaps just my nature, was that I was truly sad. Here’s a creature not much larger than a bumblebee, and it has died (as all creatures must), and I’m standing on the porch getting misty. While all month long on television I’ve been watching human beings kill each other with bombs and bullets and I haven’t shed a tear. Is it me or is it just a proximity thing?

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