It started because we lost our dog. Well, not lost. He died. After 14 years of licks (his) and loony dog-centric behaviour (ours) he’s gone. The house felt very, very empty for many, many months after that last week of last summer. And even though we could roar with laughter about how there was nothing now to do with the spare shavings of Parmesan cheese, and how unattended boxes of teriyaki chicken were not a cleaning disaster in the making anymore, there were still days during our first year without him that I could and would inexplicably burst into tears at the thought of his warm paw and smelly butt and ridiculously needy terrier personality.
I’m not sure what my husband thought of this, or whether he ever had to blink away tears, but regardless, in the spring he bought a bird feeder and a huge sack of no-name feed that cost about $2.99.
The first birds were a couple of sparrows and the female of the pair only had one leg. From our kitchen window we marvelled at her adept hopping to and fro and felt virtuous — if not for our feed, she might have starved and died, given her handicap.
A few migrating oddball birds flew in for sustenance and a dip in our bird bath on their way north or east or west in May. But it took a good two to three weeks before a second pair joined us. And then about a week before five others (maybe their babies, we surmised) hung out.
We hauled out binoculars and a bird book, and as I read on a lounger on the patio, I enjoyed the idea of birds in an urban oasis.
And then I noticed some interesting plants growing in the nearby garden, attributed them to the bundles of seeds a friend had given me and forgot to watch the birds. Except the feeder was empty. So we filled it. And it went down to half in about a week. We filled it again. Now 3 out of 4 perches were filled simultaneously with birds, unless the lower bird could muscle one of the top birds off. How cute and human-child-like, we thought, they don’t like to sit on the lower bunks because a seed occasionally gets dropped on their head.
And then…the little plants grew thick and strong and my guy said, “They’re sunflowers,” and I said, “She wouldn’t have dared give me sunflowers, I detest them.” He smiled sagely. “They’re from the birds’ dropped seed.” Hrmphh, I thought, waiting to see what they grew up to be before blaming the little tweets.
And then…the feeder emptied in two days. And a class of 10 birds scooped up the dropped seeds while the four (yes four, now) perched above. And then…the feeder emptied in half a day and there were 16 birds on the ground, on the fence, in the sunflower leaves, and there were four on the feeder and six more circling and flapping them away and birds on the fence, in the ivy next door, and oh, there’s a chipmunk on the fence, maybe two, and there are more and more birds, and gee doesn’t anyone else on this street feed birds, and why do they like cheap seed?
So now we have a flock (or six) and my friend the gardener is warning me that if I leave the feeder up over winter they’ll spill into the snow and I’ll have rodents and varmits snacking in my backyard.
And I wonder, how do I wean them off? So we let the feeder stay at quarter full for a day, and the birds go away, but come back when it’s full. And then a magpie swoops down and eats a little bird one day when there are about 30 of them on the ground and I’m getting seriously stressed and my guy says he just wanted a few animals to watch and look after in lieu of the dog. And then we have a fight in the Safeway because he wants to buy more bags of $2.99 seed and I think it’s cruel, because if we don’t cut off the supply of heroin now, before it gets cold and autumn-like, the birds are going to suffer.
And I’m wondering if I should renege on my vow to not get another mutt any time soon because it’s too much responsibility.