Friday, July 5, 2024

Hungry, hungry birds

Photo by Edie Steinberg
     "Maybe I'm a bastard..." I said, gazing out the kitchen window on Thursday, watching a dozen brown birds scrabble over each other to get to our backyard feeder. "But I'm only filling the bird feeder once a day."
     This dramatic pronouncement hung in the air for a moment. My wife, doing bills at the kitchen table, glared at me.
     "You jerk!" she hissed, or words to that effect.
     "Otherwise, I feel I'm being taken advantage of," I hastily elaborated, watching the avian feast.
     Habit might be at play here. Usually, I fill the feeder every few days. A task I leap to — can't keep hungry birds waiting.
     (Okay, okay, you're probably wondering what word my wife actually said. Well, she is an officer of the court, so she asked that I not quote her saying this particular word. An obscene agent noun. Let's leave it at that.)
     But this past week, well, a particularly ravenous crew of small brown birds has moved into my yard and taken up residence. No sooner do I fill the feeder than they swoop in, make themselves at home, and get busy.
      (An agent noun, as you may know, is a noun created by adding "-er" to a verb, just as a gerund is a noun created by adding "-ing" to a verb.)
     Part of me suspects my problem is with the quality of these ravenous birds. If the peckish birds were cardinals and woodpeckers and orioles and such — colorful birds — I'm sure I'd just bite the bullet and keep the seeds coming. But this lot ... I don't know. Somehow, filling the feeder twice a day seems like spoiling them. Like I'm their servant or something.
     (The word begins with "f" and rhymes with "pucker." Does that help?)
     Not that birdseed is incredibly expensive. About $20 for a 40 pound bag at Ace Hardware. And that's good for ... I don't know ... several weeks. Or was. This new accelerated rate of consumption ... well, I suppose it's me who'll do the adjusting. I don't know how long I can hold out watching birds fighting over a few stray seeds. Eventually, they'll wear me down, these birds.
     Not to forget the squirrels and rabbits — really, sometimes I look out my back window and feel like I'm gazing onto some kind of idyll menagerie. I'm waiting for the Teletubbies to come bounding into the frame. 
     (Which is another reason to be frank. My experience is, by attempting to conceal something, you end up drawing attention to it. Better to just let the word fly and be done with it. You'd have forgotten it by now. But I try to be respectful — one should be able to speak in an unguarded manner without worrying that you'll end up in a blog post).
     So what do you think? Feed the birds as much as they can cram into themselves? Or stick with the one refill a day rule? 





40 comments:

  1. They're common sparrows, those goddam agent nouns. I am the Bird Feeder Guy at my retirement community in Evanston and I refuse to refill the feeder more than once a week, even if the goddam agent nouns strip it in half a day. I'm with you, Neil.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I miss feeding them. Too many palm rats down here. They overtake the bird feeders.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hopefully they're not starlings. Utterly useless birds that shouldn't even be in North America, except around 1900, some idiot Shakespeare lover decided that every bird that was mentioned by that overrated fool of a playwright should be here, so he went & brought a pair of them to North America & now the entire continent is ruined with tens of millions of those noisy ugly birds!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to feel that way about starlings, but really, they can't help it that someone brought them here. They're immigrants, like most of us. They deserve our kindness.

      Delete
  4. Feed them ... they're tiny dinosaurs here to remind us we are are soon to be extinguished...and of course, don't be an agent noun. They're hungry because the cicada smorgasbord has vanished, maybe?

    ReplyDelete
  5. One of my feeders is filled with seed like yours, the Ace brand, that I fill every other day. The other I fill with sunflower seeds, also every other day. I won’t fill it more often than that. I dont want them too dependent on me.

    ReplyDelete
  6. How much time exactly are you spending staring at the backyard birds?
    It's summer so once a week is generous. Compromise and fill it half-way twice a week or switch to sunflower seeds. Branch out into a hummingbird feeder. Sugar has a sweeter price point than endless pounds of grains.

    Make some birdhouses; didn't these airy travellers just have the cicada feast of a generation? Don't be surprised when the feral cat population triples. Hope you have a friend at the fish market.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. dont get me started about the why's and how's of the price and practices of the sugar industry. oy

      Delete
  7. You need a 2nd feeder.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Could we please have a little "rakhmones" for our fine feathered friends? Of course Mrs. S is correct as usual. Don't be an agent noun, or even a secret agent noun. Cough up the shekels. BTW, Merlin Bird ID is an excellent resource to identify birds through their sounds and provides endless info about all species.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Honestly, I only feed the birds in winter. There is so much in my rural area for them to eat that they don't really need a feeder. However, I do keep two bird baths full.

    I still see plenty of cardinals, blue jays, blue birds, red wing blackbirds, and tanagers in addition to all those common sparrows.

    ReplyDelete
  10. You shouldn't feed them in the summer. There are plenty of mosquitoes and other insects that will provide them with high quality protein that's better than seed.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Humane Society recommends against bird feeders outside of late winter and early spring.
    Excepting hummingbirds and goldfinches for summer supplementing.

    https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/feeding-birds-your-backyard#:~:text=Should%20I%20feed%20birds%20year,your%20help%20in%20the%20summer

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sadly, I can't have a feeder anymore. Tree rats kept getting in, dropping seeds on the ground and attracting rats. I miss them. The birds that is.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I agree with those who wrote that birds should be fending on their own in summer. All the natural things they would eat if your feeders weren’t conveniently available is available. They need to forge so they don’t lose the habit/knowledge for survival on their own. You have set up the equivalent of a stocked frig with your adult children parked on the couch and no thought of moving out on their own because everything is ready and waiting for them.

    ReplyDelete
  14. if you'd have engaged in a similar thought process before publishing your piece about the drummer in the chicago symphony orchestra you'd be working on the next piece in that series

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course I'm working on the next piece in that series. Just not with the CSO.

      Delete
  15. we feed birds for our own satisfaction . they'd be fine without us. bird feeders draw cats and other predators that kill birds

    ReplyDelete
  16. I fill our feeders once a week in the spring, summer and fall, but a couple of times a week during the winter. The birds and squirrels empty them in a few days, but there’s always plenty of seed for them on the ground.

    For the past month or so I hadn’t filled the feeders at all. Everyone was feasting on cicadas.

    ReplyDelete
  17. It's summer. As others have noted, there's really no reason to be feeding them at all. But many thanks for answering my grammar question so quickly after I asked it.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Yes..winter only and out here in the country the squirrels suck up the black sunflowers as much as the birds do. They just attract racoons this time of year and they don't need any more encouragement. Hang a few hummer feeders out in spring summer fall and enjoy their frisky antics.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Those sparrows are wild birds, not birds living in captivity, as prisoners of our love. They should fend for themselves. I have a group of robins that literally, shove each other off the branches of my service berry bushes as soon as the berries begin to ripen. They are little jerks. PS, I stopped feeding birds when I began to notice I was also feeding the stray cats … if you get my drift.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Use only black oiler sunflower seeds. Mixes result in 50 percent waste. Check with Cornel University college of ornithology.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have one feeder dedicated to black oil sunflower seeds. Attracts cardinals, or so they say.

      And sparrows, who empty it in a couple hours, dumping most of the seeds on the ground, much to the delight of the squirrels (whom I've creatively prevented from climbing our feeder pole).

      Delete
  21. What the fuck, this column isn't about goddamned Aldi, is it?! I have the same problem in Berwyn...Fill up the feeders with seeds guaranteed to attract cardinals and goldfinches, only to have them ravaged by the bastard spawn of tiny carnivorous dinosaurs. I just quit feeding them.

    Oh and thanks for the tip about "agent nouns". Sounds like that could be a witty name for some lexigraphically-challenged private dick.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I knew precisely what your wife said from the onset because, you know, she's married to you.
    I think that there's also an outside chance that, when the two of you are alone, you might add, shall we say, a religious aspect to a verbal assault.
    I've known other couples to do this. Say things to each other privately that would snap heads if said in public.

    ReplyDelete
  23. A ravenous crew of small brown birds? Feed the birds as much as they can cram into themselves? Or stick with the one refill a day rule? Am I the only one here who thought this was some kind of a parable? About the poor folks or refugees or immigrants? Sometimes, a bird is just a bird. My mistake. Sorry, Mr. S.

    My neighbor, who's long since passed away, had a feeder. Made for quite a mess in her driveway, what with the poop and the seeds and the squirrels. And the pigeons. You don't see pigeons anymore. I guess they were wiped out years ago. Predators, birth control, whatever. Haven't seen a pigeon in years. Decades.

    Nor do we see or hear very many crows. No idea why they left. I guess they can become annoying pests, but I actually miss them. They're big and shiny, and they're smart. And I even like the squawking they make. Go figure.

    We have an Amish-built birdhouse on a ten-foot pole, and its six "units" are mostly full every year. We call it Birdland Condos. It even has a sign on it. Small brownish birds use it. Don't even know what they are. I'm a kitty guy, not a bird guy.

    And I was wrong about the "agent noun"...thought it was "a-hole" instead of "fucker." I guess I'm not such a great word guy, either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Grizz- Crow populations were decimated by west nile virus in Fall 2001 and have been very slow to recover. I miss them, too!

      Delete
    2. You may not see pigeons in Cleveland, Grizz, but there are still plenty around your old hometown.

      When they congregate, often due to folks feeding them, their shit can be a nuisance, of course. (There was a story a while back about an 'L' stop under the expressway that was befouled because a woman insisted on feeding the pigeons there every day, despite being implored not to, e.g.)

      But individually, I find many very interesting to look at. I think they get a bad rap. If pigeons were as rare around here as eagles or bluebirds seem to be, I think people would have a different attitude toward them. Perhaps I'm wrong.

      I prefer to give crows and ravens the benefit of the doubt, as well, since they're impressive creatures. I try not to focus on their association with loss, ill omens and lost souls!

      Separately, once the definition of "agent noun" was offered, I had no trouble imagining which one had been deployed. Seems a little harsher than the "bastard" used in the first sentence, but desperate times call for desperate measures...

      Delete
    3. Update: About two hours ago, I had to honk at two big gray birds that were pecking at a crack in the street, two blocks from my house. They wouldn't move, but then they finally did. PIGEONS! First ones I've seen in YEARS! Whatta co-inky-dink.

      Delete
  24. I have bird feeders. I relate to your dilemma. House Sparrows had a banner season due to the cicada feast last month. Far more survived the fledgling stage than usual. As others have mentioned, the house sparrows (actually weaver finches... not sparrows) were brought here from England, per Clark St's Shakespeare tale. I don't resent their presence, but I DO expect equality at the feeder. In mid summer, I usually cut back on the seed feeders and focus on hummingbirds and orioles. Right now, I have a family group of orioles eating grape jelly, which is nice. This year, birds abandoned the feeders in favor of cicadas, so I'm now left with bird seed and peanuts that are usually gone by June. I put that out once a day, only because I don't want it to go to waste and it wont keep until Fall. I fully expect the house sparrows to attempt a take-over later this year. One thing that helps (nothing is truly "house-sparrow proof") with a feeder like yours is a halo setup. You can purchase it, or DIY quite cheaply. Start with a ring that has a wider circumference than the perches on your feeder. I use a wire wreath frame that you can buy at a craft store. Attach it above the feeder with wire to the Shepherd's hook, so it is centered above the feeder. next, tie multiple lengths of fishing line from the ring, so it is hanging in a circle around the feeder, to just below the bottom of the feeder. Tie a weight to the bottom of each string of fishing line. I use washers, but you could use bolts, old earrings, whatever. For some reason, the house sparrows fear the fishing line. They will be skittish around the feeder, which will allow cardinals a place at the feeder again. You might try safflower seed, too. Liked by cardinals but not house sparrows. Its not about species snobbery or persecution of the house sparrows, its about equal opportunity at the feeder.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I have several feeders that I fill with different types of seeds every day. Like your bird feeders, when the cicadas emerged, my feeders were ignored. Now the birds are eating seed like there’s no tomorrow. For me, that means that birds eat from natural sources AND feeders and won’t lose their ability to find wild food just because people put out feeders. By the way, regarding your recent column mentioning Christian proselytizing, Christians do that because Christ said to go out and preach the good news. (Mark 16:15)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right.

      What Jesus didn't say was "Go forth and preach...and if they don't fucking believe, then kill the rat bastards." Which seems to be the operational directive of most of these proselytizers.

      I mean, ask yourself, have you EVER been confronted by a believer in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, hell, even most believers in Judaism; and told your soul will burn in hell if they don't repent and accept Jeebuzz as their lord and master?

      Go ahead, I'll hang up and wait for my answer.

      Delete
  26. I feel your pain. Way too many brown birds and cowbirds at my four feeders but hate to see them empty. So I cave in and keep them filled.

    ReplyDelete
  27. My first inclination was to suggest once a day refills for your feeder, but I think the birds needs aren't fed by a free lunch in spring and summer. Better to provide sustenance in harder times. If that's better for the birds, then year round feeding is somewhat selfish. Not to mention that providing food of any kind to squirrels is just wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I cohabitate, and have for coming up on 34 years, with a certain individual of the Cockatoo persuasion. And she says, don’t be a pucker. Just feed them.

    ReplyDelete
  29. In times of plenty like the summer once is enough. But when the weather turns and you have the wherewithal to do so, fill as often as your generosity allows.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Fill your yard with an abundance of locally native trees, forbs, and shrubs. Leave stalks full of seed all winter and clean up (minimally!) in spring if you must. VoilĂ ! Nature’s own beautiful bird feeder.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.