Sunday, March 08, 2009

Allegory of a Cave

If not for the snowstorm the feeders wouldn't have been overrun throughout the day by goldfinches. If not for the snowstorm the small seed-eating songbirds wouldn't have constructed the tiny underground chamber. If not for the snowstorm I wouldn't have been confined to the house, pacing in the family room, and looking out the window. If not for the snowstorm I would never have seen my first ever finch cave.

By then the snow was at least ten inches deep, higher in the drifting areas. I had already shoveled once, a few hours before, to clear away the accumulation of white stuff that prevented the opening of our two front facing doors, as well as to provide two paths for me across the lawn (1) southward to my bird food storage pail and (2) west to the feeders themselves. I also reloaded the thistle feeder that by that time (ten a.m.) had been three quarters decimated by the aforementioned representatives of the genus Carduelis, family Fringillidae.

This newest of our feeders has been a big hit with the finches since we acquired it in mid-January to replace a less sturdy, plastic one that was trashed by the squirrels during our hiatus over the Christmas holidays. Because the birds affix themselves to the metal mesh body of the tube shaped feeder, rather than sitting on a perch, the device can handle upwards of a dozen diners at one time. This S.R.O. condition is not common, but not totally unusual either. Today it was standard operating procedure all day long.

Anticipating the difficulty and discomfort of tending to the feeders during the storm I had filled them to the brim the night before. The snow began around two a.m.. When Mars and I arrived in the family room for breakfast, about one hour after sunrise, the thistle station was awash in a pulsating sea of green-turning-yellow feathers. With an equal number hovering anxiously on the adjacent tree branches, and possibly double that count scurrying around on the ground underneath feasting on the debris of the second story feeding frenzy.

Either we were the only game in town, or milk, bread, and toilet paper seeking grocery shoppers are not the only living things that get spooked into a consuming frenzy by the prospects of several inches of frozen precipitation. Goldfinches apparently are equally bird-brained.

As Roy Scheider observed in the movie "Jaws," when he first saw the great white shark: "we're gonna need a bigger boat".

But we didn't have one. So instead I replenished the thistle supply two more times during the day -- acts of kindness for which the goldfinches showed their gratitude by continuing their display of gluttony.

At one point during the afternoon I looked out and saw the usual suspects on the feeder, and what looked to be fifteen and one quarter finches working the bargain basement area within the walls of my previously cleared out access path. The .25 finch was seventy-five percent hidden within a tiny cavern in the snow located at the far end of the trail with its tail feathers bobbing up and down apparently in counterpoint to its front-end gyrations.

I watched in disbelief for a minute or two then invited Mars over to confirm my sighting. She did, and we both watched the same bird doing the same things for several minutes. Then she went back to her knitting. A few moments later something startled the entire charm of finches.

The bottom-feeders quickly leapt into the air as a group and joined up with the rapidly ejecting bottle feeders in a mass retreat. The solitary cave dweller backed rapidly into the daylight and merged in with the swarm of evacuees. Although I didn't check that often it was the last time that I saw anyone enter the minuscule grotto.

Later in the day I went outside to take a closer look at the tiny opening in the snow. I am not sure what I expected to see -- a nanoscale home entertainment center; a shrine to Our Lady of the Chaffinch constructed of green, yellow and purple colored pin feathers; an avian sweat lodge to warm and detoxify the little feathered guys; a stash for stockpiling thistle -- but I didn't see anything except a the covered-over remains of a thumbprint sized gap in the snow and lots of seed residue.

I searched the Internet for information but found naught but a video of "a bird resting in a snow hole" from Oslo Norway. That cavern, which judging by its size and shape, clearly was handcrafted for its occupant, is strikingly similar to the one on my property.

The Norwegian grotto's Lesser Redpoll occupant seems to be physically comfortable but slightly uneasy, probably because of the nearby camera. I hope that the videographer backed away and let the bird have some well-deserved peace and warmth. That is what I plan to do the next time that I see a bird resting in a snow hole.

Initiative should be rewarded.

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