When people find out that I’m something of a bird nerd, they like to tell me stories about their bird feeders, their favourite bird (always dangerous), and the pair of red-tailed hawks that started nesting nearby and scared all the little birds away. I love these stories and I’m always happy to share the results of a study I did on the hierarchy of bird dominance at bird feeders in college*.
But I found this poem today, and it made me think of my backyard bird watchers.
Feeding the Birds
I wanted them to come. Wanted cardinals,
jays, a goldfinch— that yellow most of all.
I bought binoculars, Birds of New Jersey,
learned to recognize the mourning doves,
the black spots they shared, how they got
their name. My husband began to look
out the window each morning, shouted for me
when they came, bought a birdbath because
he’d learned that birds get thirsty. Our children
laughed at us as they raced out of the house,
but I liked all this learning. Then I learned
about grackles. I told myself I did not mind them;
their iridescent blue heads were beautiful.
I did not know they would take over, scare
the other birds away, that I would admit
they were ugly, buy seed they won’t eat.
Now the empty suet feeder sways like a hanged
man on the branch where the grackles
had perched, and I watch from the window.
I could not choose my children this way.
– Susan Rothbard
*The most dominant feeder bird is the squirrel.**
**Unless there are turkeys, then the turkey is the most dominant bird.