Bird Watcher's General Store

“A Cape Cod Destination Icon For 40 Years”

Bring Your Own Bag to Shop to Help the Birds

Dear Bird Folks,

I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how much I enjoy watching the birds. They brighten up every single day and are especially important to me during the winter. With the start of the New Year, I would like to know, in addition to providing food, water and shelter, what else I can do to help birds.

– Sarah, Sandwich, MA

It’s okay, Sarah, You don’t have to be embarrassed to tell me how much you enjoy birds. I would feel bad for you if you didn’t enjoy them. I know a guy who has several birdfeeders right outside of his home office. He spends so much time watching the birds he never gets his paperwork done, and thus he doesn’t have time to help his wife put the Christmas stuff away. Any creature that brings you joy, and gets me…oops, I mean him…out of putting the Christmas stuff away, deserves our support.

Let’s see, what can you do to help birds? Well, the two biggest issues facing birds right now are habitat destruction and climate change; sadly, both situations are about to get worse. I certainly can’t expect you to get involved in that mess. Climate change is a tough problem (but not as tough as putting the Christmas stuff away). Another problem for birds is the free-roaming housecat dilemma. It’s no secret that we lose billions (yes, billions) of songbirds each year to uncontrolled cats, but you probably aren’t in the mood to take on the powerful cat lobby. So forget that one for now. Hmm, what else can you do? Okay, I have something you can do to help birds and it’s easy. The next time you go shopping, do what I do. When the clerk is about to put my goods into a bag, I stop him/her and say, “No thanks. Bags are for sissies.” Then I grab my stuff and walk out. The clerk may be a little puzzled, but the birds everywhere will love it. Really.

Each year we produce and throw away 500 billion (once again, yes, billion) plastic bags. Many of these bags find their way into our waterways and eventually into the ocean, where they are ingested by seabirds (as well as fish, turtles and marine mammals). This is not a good thing. Not too many years ago the busiest store in all of New England was Spag’s in Shrewsbury, MA. The store was super-popular and always crowded. And what was Spag’s noted for, besides crowds? It didn’t have bags. “No bags at Spag’s” was their motto. Whenever we shopped at Spag’s we simply brought our own bags or boxes. It was no big deal. In fact, I thought that was how everyone shopped. But then I opened my own store and quickly learned that non-Shrewsbury people required a bag for every single purchase, no matter what it was. Occasionally, I’d question a customer’s need for a bag, but I had to be careful. I couldn’t let my aspiration to “go green” get in the way of my aspiration to “get green” (if you know what I mean).

If we think about it, there is absolutely no reason why many of the items we purchase need to be carried away in bags. A birdfeeder, for example, will spend its entire life outside exposed to rain, snow and constant squirrel attacks. If a feeder can handle snow and squirrels, it can definitely survive a ride home without being packaged in a bag.

One of my favorite customers, whom I will call “Judy,” regularly buys three suet cakes and then asks to have her three little cakes placed into a bag. This, of course, causes me to grumble each and every time. One day I decided to be proactive and gave Judy a cloth reusable shopping bag. She was appreciative, but the next time she stopped in to buy her three suet cakes the cloth bag was nowhere to be seen. Sigh! This bag thing is a hard habit to break, but it is breakable. Just like everyone was prepared when they shopped at Spag’s, we all need to be prepared when we shop anywhere. Think about it this way. When rain is expected we prepare for it by carrying an umbrella. When shopping is in the forecast, we should simply carry something to put our stuff in. It’s that easy. A nice 2017 resolution, Sarah, would be to plan your shopping trips in advance. Then, when a clerk asks you to choose paper or plastic, just look her/him in the eye and say, “Neither one, because bags are for sissies.” The birds will thank you and it will be a great way to start the New Year. And now that I’ve helped you with your problem, can you come over to my house? I think my wife could use a hand with the Christmas stuff.