I have tried for years to feed birds. Hung all manner of feeders from stout branches and metal shepherd’s crooks, tried seed mixture blended specially – or so the bag said – for the birds I’ve seen hanging out at Sandhill, crumbled up stale bread and sprinkled it on the grass in an effort to Hansel-and-Gretel-like show them the way. And, with the exception of hummingbirds, I have failed miserably.
Friends who have been successful in this endeavor have suggested that perhaps the birds around my place don’t need supplemental feeding, that they are able to get all they need from the fields and forests. This has never seemed a reasonable explanation to me. Why would the mockingbirds, wrens, sparrows, crows, doves, cardinals, and blue jays that I see and hear with regularity turn down free and easy food?
One person, who knows how much I love wind chimes, told me that the birds might be scared away by the sound. Another supposition I find it hard to fathom as the chimes have never kept the hummingbirds from drinking their fill at the red plastic tubes dangling from the corners of the deck nor have they deterred the armadillos, raccoons, rabbits, or deer from coming right up to the house to nibble hostas, lilies, mint, or anything else green and tasty.
The long running frustration does not, however, keep me from trying again every so often. I empty out the seeds from the last attempt, now moldy and stuck together in strange Lego-like shapes, and refill the feeder with fresh crisp seeds. I am such an optimist.
So that’s what I was doing last Saturday when I realized that balanced in the crook of two slender branches just above the branch from which I was attempting to remove the bird feeder was a nest. Smaller than a cereal bowl, slightly larger than a coffee mug, the twigs that formed its armature were about as big around as a wooden match. It looked like a new nest, one that would still be holding eggs or maybe even babies.
Even on my tip-toes it was too high to see over the edge. I took my cell phone out of the pocket of my shorts and held it up and over the nest. Click, click, click. Three photos of something.
I lowered my arm, careful not to jostle the nest, and looked to see whether I’d captured anything. There they were – three gape-mouthed fledglings. Their bright yellow beaks pointed toward the sky like traffic cones, their bodies one round heap of downy softness somewhere between brown and gray. Could I be faulted if I allowed myself the fleeting thought that their mother might be pleased to find a full feeder right outside her door?
A couple of days later I was back outside – watering the hydrangeas, pulling weeds, giving in to my baser self and actually spraying Round-Up in a couple of places where the black mesh stuff just wasn’t cutting it. I decided to check on the baby birds. I eased my phone back up over the next. Click, click, click. Three photos of something.
I lowered my arm and looked at the screen. An empty nest. No sign of birds. And no sign that any food had been taken from the feeder. I don’t know which disappointed me more.
Well, actually I do. Baby birds leave nests. Either they get big enough to fly or they fall victim to a predator. I can’t do anything to assist in the former or prevent the latter. But the feeder, the still full feeder, left me feeling let down because it was all about me and my good intentions, about me and my efforts to help. The feeder was all about me and whether I would be successful at feeding the birds.
Except that – and I realized this when I stopped to really think about it – I was successful the minute I filled the feeder and hung it from the branch. My part in the enterprise was simply the offering. The birds’ part was the eating. I had done my part whether they ever took a single seed.