The Bird Feeder

Posted: February 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

Just outside our rear windows sits the bird bath which during this time of year serves a much more important purpose, that of the bird feeder. With all the ice and cold it appears we are the only cafe open. We have been serving up a rich mix of seed that appeals to a broad range of beaks. And, as it turns out, a menu that is suitable to the deer and squirrels, too, who make a point of finishing it all off before daybreak every single night.

Today there are two colors around the feeder, blue and red. The Blue jays are the bully tribe, and they couldn’t care less who eats and who does not. No one taught them how to share. Which is why ten of them can surround the feeder at the same time, gorging themselves, and a blanket of Red Cardinals cover the ground below, waiting for crumbs from the table. They are polite birds, Cardinals are, and you can see what that’s got them. Only the squirrel is more patient and evidently pretty much ignored. He sits at the base of the feeder like a furry lump of clay, chomping whatever he scrapes up in his delicate hands.

Just when I think the Jays will never get their fill, abandon their turf, and allow the Cardinals to belly up, another unexpected guest arrives. He is dining alone. His arrival is unceremonious. He dives, lands and stares down the blue gang with his impressive red head. And they scatter like a bunch of sissies. The Woodpecker takes his stand, king of the mountain, the only one on top. He eats at his leisure. Whenever a flash of blue draws near he simply takes one step in their direction and they are gone as fast as they came. This is his. Now the carpet below is a mixture of red and blue. And the one squirrel.

Everything is relative, of course, and when one group seems like they are dominant and will never, ever go away, sometimes all it takes is a new kid in town to clear the decks. That is amazing when you consider that the showdown is less about how many and more about who it is that shows up. This is where I could sing sweetly about the power of one. However true that may be, I will restrain myself. The pack, the herd, the tribe usually does prevail. Except for a few remarkable exceptions. Woodpeckers do come. At least for a while.

And I suppose that’s the rest of the story. The impressive Red Headed Woodpecker eventually ate his fill and flew away. When he did the Blue Jays returned to their former glory, the Cardinals once again policing the ground below. The systems get disrupted for a little while, but not much more than that. The call of survival is that strong. Which is why I doubt this little episode with the Woodpecker has led the Jays into some new moral conversion. Jays are going to be Jays. And if you want them to scram you need a handy Woodpecker.

In good time the squirrel ran up on deck and scuttled the Jays. And some Cardinals joined him. Coalitions are sometimes the only way to get something done. One tribe of birds and a mammal against another tribe of birds. The Jays seemed to get a little bored with it anyway because they’d probably had enough anyway.

Birds feed their young but not other kinds of birds. Mammals take care of their own, but usually not other types of mammals, though sometimes they do. The human variety of mammal can be just as territorial as a Jay, calculating as a coalition, and patient as Cardinals to survive. They cultivated an ability to depend on one another through division of labor and protection and food gathering early on. And then somewhere in the mists of their story some of them found some higher gene of compassion. They ended up saying strange, non-tribal things like, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and even “Love your enemy.” Which of course runs counter to most anything you might see at my bird feeder.

Just because a creature is human that doesn’t mean it is much more down the compassion path than Jays, Cardinals, Woodpeckers or Squirrels. The human creature can be just as base. And even more deliberately cruel, really. But ever so often you find some of those two legged creatures who transcend bird feeder society and become something more, something else. And that’s pretty much miraculous, all things considered. I mean, when you think about it, somebody actually went to a store, bought bird seed, and put it out for some other species not his own.

For now this causes me to consider how my tribe is relating to every other tribe, human and non-human, what to do with sharing resources, how to balance competition with cooperation, and, in the highest places, how to make choices that seem to transcend any rational reason for doing them in the first place. There are things that make the two legged creatures what they were meant to be, at least when they are at their best. And even though there is no natural reason to do so, there are other reasons, the ones that make life rich, beautiful and even worth the effort.


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