Monday, October 05, 2009


When Mars and I came back from our three week September sabbatical to New Mexico all of the wildlife to whom we provided sustenance had disappeared. Some of them have come back. But the two biggest eaters have either reappeared in severely diminished numbers or completely flown the coop.

We maintain two large feeders -- one of sunflower seeds and one of thistle -- plus two small "walk-inside-of" pottery feeders for those birds such as chickadees that seem to prefer dining in a more intimate setting. With them we attracted a pretty constant variety of birds as well as, by pre-vacation count, eight squirrels and seventeen pigeons. At that time I was refilling both of the big feeders, at the least, every other day. And feeling pretty heroic about my obviously successful charitable efforts to end bird hunger.

The large seed feeder is plastic so, based upon previous unpleasant angry-squirrel experiences, I took it down and stored it safely in the garage while we were out of town. The thistle feeder is made of gnaw-proof metal and thus largely ignored by the destructive tree-rodents. I filled it, not expecting it to last for the duration, but assuming it would satisfy its regular visitors for a good part of that time since most of them had switched over to the end-of-season seed-bearing flowers in our perennial beds for most of their nourishment.

We arrived back in town around eleven p.m. so it wasn't until the next morning that I took stock of the bird feeding situation. I retrieved the plastic feeder, filled it with sunflowers, and hung it. To my surprise the thistle holder was not empty, so I topped it off. Then I replenished the pottery ones, threw some more sunflower seeds on the ground, and waited.

No one -- nobody, not a soul, not anyone, not a single visitor, never a one, none.

Day two, ditto.

On the third day we spotted a finch on the thistle tube. It wasn't gold. It wasn't green. It wasn't purple. It was basically colorless with a body seemingly lacking in feathers -- as desperate looking as I was feeling.

The next morning a small squirrel hung upside down from the sunflower feeder. It ate quietly and slowly, and then disappeared.

Over the next few days the level of the food dropped slowly even though neither Mars nor I saw what we thought was enough activity to explain why this was happening -- a goldfinch here or there, an occasional nuthatch or titmouse, purple finches, a few sparrows, a cardinal, one Downy woodpecker. A relatively steady stream, but definitely not rush hour at the diners.And still, there was only a single squirrel, and no pigeons at all.

This was a few weeks ago. Our squirrel population is now up to two, with an occasional third. There are still not any pigeons. I have refilled the feeders once, when they each got to be about one-half empty.

In spite of our reduced bird-food usage I decided to stock up on both thistle and sunflower seeds when we went to our favorite garden center to purchase our fall supply of chrysanthemums.

I mentioned to the proprietor that the number of avian diners had dropped off since before we went away.

"Grackles." he said.


"It's been the same for me all summer." he further explained. "I've been using barely any seeds. The grackles came and scared away all of the other birds. And they are still around."

We did have one member of that shiny-black feathered genus who was a regular customer at our sunflower station before we left. He was a juvenile who became attached to this feeder, and stayed behind after his parents shut down their nest and moved on to warmer climes. Now he too was gone.

Although we are using considerably less food I suspect that what we now have is considered normal volume for a successful bird-feeding operation. And the apparent busyness earlier in the year was distorted by the presence of two atypical, high-powered, gourmand machines.

That doesn't explain of course the non-reappearance of the pigeons, or the reduced number of squirrels. And there probably isn't an answer to be found anyway.

So Mars and I will just have to learn to live with it. We certainly aren't going to get any sympathy for losing something that most other people wouldn't have wanted in the first place.

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