By John Hopkins
You hear all sorts of isolated creaks and groans in the country during winter nights -- ice cracking on the river, trees slowly shifting under the weight of snow, a large man in red landing a sleigh on your roof.
But the sound that woke me up very early one morning was different. Rather than a single crack or creak this was a steady tapping sound, as if someone was throwing pebbles at a window pane. Or worse, as if water was steadily dripping from a leaky pipe. And it wasn’t stopping. Obviously I was going to have to investigate and hope for the best.
I cautiously ventured downstairs, half-expecting to find our kitchen and living room floor covered in water. But all was dry – no sign of any leaks anywhere. And still the tapping continued.
Finally, in the gray light of the dawn I saw the source of the incessant noise. A tiny bird was rapping its wing against our patio door. Upon seeing me it shook its head in seeming exasperation and with its other wing pointed at the bird feeder hanging several feet away – EMPTY!
I have had mixed feelings about the bird feeder. Were we tampering with nature’s delicate balance by setting up an artificial feeding station for the birds? What if we forgot to fill it? Would the birds all die? Would we destroy our ecosystem? As it turned out, the consequences were much, much worse than I had imagined. The feeder was empty and I was soon to have flocks of angry birds on my hands. Sure enough, what started as one almost indistinguishable voice grew as the morning went on. More and more birds flew in, gave a cursory inspection of the empty feeder and then perched on our backyard furniture, staring through our patio doors in protest – Blue Jays, Gray Jays, Juncos, Chickadees stood in solidarity.
I thought perhaps that our two cats might break up the protest, but quite the opposite turned out to be the case. Our orange tabby went so far as to suggest that I wasn’t so snappy with his food dish either and he wasn’t surprised to see I was depriving the birds as well.
Obviously some form of mediation was necessary so I arranged a meeting with representatives from each species. It was a chaotic summit, not helped by the fact that I accidentally kept referring to the Gray Jays as Black-Capped Chickadees, which got them very irritated. The Chickadees, meanwhile, complained that the Blue Jays were big bullies who kept on monopolizing the feeder when it did have food in it, and the Blue Jays said this was unfair stereotyping, and we probably all thought they squawked too much as well. That brought a rather embarrassing silence, as we all thought they were kind of loud, but we collectively chose not to bring up that point during this meeting.
A couple of Cardinals that I did not recognize showed up partway through our discussion and said there was a very nice house down the road they visited that had a bird feeder that was full all the time, and with the expensive stuff. Our orange tabby asked if the family looked to be in need of a housecat, but my withering glare convinced him he should keep his thoughts on the matter to himself.
I said that if the other house looked after them so well, maybe the birds didn’t need to come around here for our “cheap” food, but the Cardinals quickly backtracked and said our feed really wasn’t so bad, and they thought we had a nicer view from our feeder.
Several black squirrels in attendance said they would be happy to monitor the distribution of feed, but their crafty smiles and the way they rubbed their paws together when they made the suggestion convinced me they were perhaps not the most trustworthy creatures of the bunch.
After much debate and discussion, and thankfully few feathers flying, we came up with a feeding schedule that seemed to satisfy all involved. A timetable was created for me to replenish the feeder, and each bird species was given an allotted time to feed. The Blue Jays felt a bit short-changed but agreed to try it out, and the Gray Jays were willing to let the Black-Capped Chickadee mix-up go in exchange for some positive press. (Isn’t the Gray Jay a great choice as our national bird?) I even arranged to leave some feed scattered on the ground for the squirrels to enjoy.
The birds and I have been getting along pretty well since that winter day. But on another early morning, when the weather had started to get a bit warmer and spring was in the air, I awoke once again to a tapping sound outside. I knew I was on schedule with filling the bird feeder, so I was puzzled as to what this disturbance could be. I hurried downstairs and there at the patio door was a groggy-looking raccoon. I opened the door and he motioned for me to bend down so he could whisper in my ear. In a rough, almost hoarse voice he asked, “Hey buddy, any word on when the sugar water stand will be opening this season?”