Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Feathered Visitors

While the earth continues to provide bounty for both earthbound and avian creatures, the time is approaching when my feathered visitors won’t be able to find enough to eat. The ground will freeze and be covered in snow and ice, and they will be hard-pressed to find some bit or morsel that will help keep them warm during the bitterly cold nights of deepest winter.

Research shows that birds are warm-blooded animals whose internal body temperature is roughly 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As they have virtually no body fat in which to store heat, it is crucial for them to eat almost constantly during the colder months, especially during those times when they are cut off from a natural food supply that includes seeds, berries, and insects.
Sudden dips in temperature can be fatal to birds, and it is then that they need our help more than at any other time. To maintain their body temperatures, birds need the extra calories that seeds and suet cakes can supply. Thus, it has been my practice here to try to fill that need as best I can, all the while fighting the good fight with squirrels and raccoons to make sure that the birds are the ultimate victors.

I recently downsized my feeding arsenal to just one feeder and one suet-cake holder, and these I place close to my front door for easy access and a fast approach during squirrel skirmishes. No matter how squirrel-proof the more sophisticated feeders are said to be, I have found none yet that those clever creatures cannot somehow defy. I have hung them from wires, from poles, and used all the baffles and foils I can think of. Yet, sooner or later, the feeder is on the ground, its contents scattered, and I’m faced yet again with deciding on another approach that, next time, may just work. I’ve even hung feeders from a long clothesline that is nearly 10 feet from the ground. Believe me when I say that squirrels can and do hang by their paws like high-wire acrobats and somehow make their way to the feeder. As frustrating as it is, it is nothing short of amazing.

Perhaps the greatest pleasure in feeding birds is seeing the vast numbers of different species that visit the feeder each day. Most bird-feeding devotees can attest to the thrilling antics of the chickadees, almost always the first to give in to hunger over fear. Other birds, like nuthatches, titmice, and woodpeckers take a while longer to trust that no harm will come to them if they come near. As for the seed that ultimately ends up on the ground, the ground-feeders such as juncos and chipping sparrows make short work of it. And barring that, raccoons can always be counted on to clean up the mess. A small flock of turkeys visited my porch on a cold winter morning a few years ago, and even an opossum visited once. Hunger is a powerful force that compels these creatures to go well beyond their natural boundaries.

It is a necessary and humane interdependence. For do we humans not reap, and sometimes even recklessly, from the animal kingdom for our own sustenance? And isn’t it only right to give something to them when they are hungry? As long as I’m here, or wherever I am, I will continue to provide a feast for the birds and other creatures while this good earth sleeps beneath its mantle of snow. And I will always believe that part of the reason they keep coming back is that they are indeed thankful.


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