Somewhere I read that up here in the Adirondacks you should not feed the birds after March 31st. I forget the exact logic. The article provided one of those explanations that, you know, sounded quasi-plausible, but might have just been something that a guy would tell his wife so he wouldn’t have to go out into the yard and top off the feeder for the 7,000th time this year.
I think it had to do with birds needing to fend for themselves, and several other sundry character issues that I hadn’t thought of as applying to wildlife. I sort of understand, though. It’s like all our kids thinking that food comes from a supermarket instead of a farm. Maybe bird-parents sit around Starbucks saying, “Fledglings today, do you believe it? They think everything comes from a feeder. They don’t realize all the work it takes to peck it out of a seedhead.”
But whatever the case, I was thrilled to hear the March 31 news, because roughly speaking, I’d say a good 40 percent of my weekly guilt allowance during the winter is spent on worry that the feeder has gone dry and that without action on my part, all my feathered friends will starve. Now, I felt, I could tell them that the literature says they should be off foraging on their own, and that the empty feeder was for their own good.
I should mention here that this entire intellectual exercise is largely moot, because my feeder doesn’t seem to attract any good birds. There are a passel of what my aunt calls LBBs (Little Brown Birds) that don’t exactly inspire a trip to the field guide. There’s a stray woodpecker who only seems to show up after the bars close, like I’m running some kind of avian Denny’s, but one suet cake has lasted him the whole winter. And then of course there are the bird-hoods: The jays, crows and such that sit back in the bush with their cigarettes rolled up in their sleeves until I go in the house, at which point they chase all the other birds away. As a matter of fact, it is a testament as to how poor my selection is that when they chase away the other birds, I don’t even care. (The magnificent exception is a bald eagle that flies over the place once or twice a week, but he’s not going to stop unless I start filling the feeder with mice.)
So as far as birds are concerned, I’m fairly relaxed. It’s not like when I was a kid, and my parents kept an Inquisition’s worth of barbaric poles, rods and pokers designed to intimidate starlings and grackles. It was like World War II. Everyone — man, woman and child — was on duty, although occasionally we would all get absorbed in some other project until someone yelled “The Feeder!” and we’d race to the window to see that, sure enough, the criminal element had slipped in unnoticed, at which point dad would go racing around to the front of the house with a lance.
On the bright side, I don’t have any problem with squirrels, probably for the same reasons that at Halloween I never had any problems with tricker-treaters, viz., the product that I offer is not terribly desirable. At Halloween I’d give fruit to kids, and of course word gets around the neighborhood pretty quick. And I feed plain old sunflower seeds to the birds, which I believe the squirrels would eat if you handed it to them, but they’re in no way going to waste their entire battery of ninja-like squirrel moves on something that plain.
The jays and LBBs seem to enjoy them though, and they also took great umbrage when I dutifully stopped serving on 3.31. They elected a spokesman who sat on the rail and squawked at the poor service. And I had to agree that he had something of a point. Since March 31, we have gotten about twelve feet of snow and ice, which, the bird would argue, makes an arbitrary calendar date seem rather ridiculous.
I told him I was new to the region, so I couldn’t really be expected to know what traditional April weather was like, and thereby had to stay true to a hard-and-fast regulation. He looked at me the way I have looked at many a government bureaucrat who has just told me that he’d love to help, but that his hands were tied.
They got the last laugh though, when in the middle of a weekend blizzard they were all out brightly and gainfully singing their spring songs, much like the Whos down in Whoville who persevered regardless of the horrid, season-stealing Grinch. The whole situation was so pathetic that, with a sigh, I pulled out the last few cups of seed and poured them in the feeder. It felt good to see them eat. But it felt bad to have been found guilty of contempt of court by a stupid bird.
Photo of bird feeder by Tim Rowland.