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Birdbrain.   —   For the Birds

Every morning I watch the birds. I sit at my kitchen table, sometimes with coffee, sometimes after my shower and still wrapped in a towel with wet hair, sometimes making myself late for work, but every morning at some point for at least five minutes I watch the birds. Initially I put a birdfeeder on the fire escape to not only feed the birds but to entertain the cats as well. But it has slowly grown into a morning ritual for me, one that I actually had when I was a kid, of waking up and watching the birds feed. It relaxes me, calms me, and allows my mind to flutter through wonderful thoughts that have nothing to do with paying rent or buying groceries or going to work.

I've been forced to experiment with many different types of birdfeeders for various reasons. Some feeders rot the seed because they retain too much moisture. I've also had to be specific in the size and shape with the feeders because of trying to make it work on a fire escape. But the most troublesome problem I've had with feeders are because squirrels. They are the devil’s dog and they do the devils work. At one point I had a plastic feeder and the squirrels chewed through the handle and the feeder crashed to cement below. I had a gazebo shaped feeder and the squirrels scooped armfuls of seed off every side spilling it onto my landlords porch roof below which clogged the gutters when the seed sprouted. But a few months ago I discovered a feeder that has seemed to alleviate all my bird feeding problems, and with a few tweaks to the feeder and changing the seed to a kind without the corn (squirrels love corn), I've found a nice balance of a desirable bird feeding system.

Now I've come to discover a new problem, a very odd problem. Actually, it's not a problem per se but more of a curious going-on that often needs my attention. See, when the feeder runs out of food the finches, in search for more food, squeeze their way under the plastic wall through its small feeding gap to the INSIDE of the feeder where they continue to peck around for seed that never made it out. The only thing is, they can't seem to get out once they get in. So I come home and notice a bird inside the feeder. Curious. I open the window, reach my arm across to the feeder and lift its roof and the finch flies free. Then I thought perhaps that I was making the assumption that he was stuck and decided one day to monitor it to see if he could in fact squeeze back out. After the finch was satisfied with its pecking, it tried to leave. But the plastic wall isn't straight up and down, it curves inwards. So when the finch wants in, the plastic gives a little because it’s in the direction of which it bends. But when the finch wants out the wall resists because it’s in the opposite direction of which it bends, therefore trapping the bird.

Last night I freed a bird three times. Right before the darkness of night settled in I noticed another bird inside. I figured that if he really wanted to, he could get out somehow. Why else would he keep going back? So I left him to fend for himself. Before I went to bed some five hours later I got a flashlight and shined it out the window and onto the feeder, the bird was still inside. So, I released him. This morning I wake up and the bird is inside again. Now, I had planned on buying seed after work today to alleviate this problem, albeit temporarily, but I didn't like the thought of this bird going back to being trapped inside until such time that I filled the feeder. So this morning I released the bird again and this time when he flew out he flew straight to the railing that the feeder hung from, inches from me, and just sat there staring at me.

I asked him why he kept going back, was he really so hungry? He just sat there staring at me. I asked him if he just liked being inside or if he was on some kind of bird drugs. He continued to sit there staring, daring me to capture him. I wanted to. I wanted to cup his little feathery body in my palms and feel the flutter of his wings on my skin. But I'm not the kind of person who goes around giving heart attacks to tiny birds so I just stared back.

I lifted the roof to the feeder again, this time removing the plastic wall completely, leaving a feeder with three walls instead of four. I bid farewell to the bird and leaned back inside the apartment closing the window behind me. The bird, still perched on the rail, hopped down to the now exposed inside of the bird feeder, and just sat there. And that's how I left him as I went off to work, twenty minutes late, again.

Posted 10.3.2003

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