Dear Bird Folks,
I live smack in the middle of the city. All around me are concrete and bricks. Last week I visited a friend in New Hampshire who has several bird feeders. I spent every morning watching an assortment of birds fly in and out for their breakfast. What a nice treat for a city boy. Unfortunately, my friend didn’t seem to enjoy any of it. He was constantly banging on the window to scare away certain birds or other animals. He even talked about putting up an electric fence to “fry” the chipmunks and squirrels. I felt sorry that my friend couldn’t enjoy his feeders the same way I did. Do all people who feed birds end up like my friend? -Ray, South Boston
This is a topic I’ve wanted to write about for years but nobody has ever asked, until now. Too many of the people that I see every day are like your friend. We call them the “bird bigots.” They claim to like birds but they only like birds that look and behave the way they think they should. We are talking ultra-control freaks here. They demand that only little birds come to the feeder… except for cardinals, which can do no wrong. They think big birds are evil and that squirrels eat from their feeders not to survive, but to be spiteful. Spiteful? Squirrels are too smart to waste their time being spiteful.
You would think that talking about birds all day would be a fun job, and sometimes it is. Other times I spend all day listening to bird-whining: “The crows wake me up.” “The geese poop on my lawn.” “The plovers are closing the beach.” “The Blue Jays are talking about me behind my back.” “The herons have skinnier legs than my wife does.” It goes on and on. But nothing causes bird-whining more than unwelcome birds coming to a bird feeder.
One day I got a call from a lady who wanted to know how to “get rid of” the catbirds. Catbirds? What could possibly be wrong with catbirds? I think even Dick Cheney likes catbirds. This lady was upset because catbirds were eating the jelly that she put out for the orioles. I made the mistake of trying to encourage her to enjoy the catbirds as well. She angrily asked, “Is there someone there who knows something about birds?” I said, “Sure, lady, I’ll pass the phone to someone else.” I let her have a nice chat with Mr. Dial-tone.
I don’t get it either, Ray. Where’s the tolerance? Where’s the appreciation for diversity? It would be somewhat understandable if we were talking about a group of toothless rednecks who like to shoot everything that moves. But the people I get complaints from, in theory, like birds. They put out bird feeders, yet they hate many of the birds that come to eat. They scream, “The grackles are pigs.” Come on. It’s a bird feeder. Grackles are birds. The results should be obvious. It’s like giving a party with an open bar and then complaining when people get drunk. As I said, the results should be obvious. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that birdseed costs money and that people who pay for it should have some say about who eats it. I get that. That’s why some feeders are designed with specific birds in mind, or to keep out squirrels. Most of the time these feeders work great, but not always. That’s just the way it goes. What I don’t understand is the anger and the aggression. I’ve had people try to return feeders with bullet holes in them. I’ve had idiots who proudly tell me about squirrels, chipmunks, or raccoons that they have trapped and drowned because the creatures were coming to the food they are offering. Nice, eh?
This column is supposed to be light, so I’m not going to get too preachy here, but I need to say that bird feeding isn’t for everyone. If you are a mega-control freak who needs to bang on the window at the sight of a crow, or reach for a bazooka every time you see a squirrel, or put up electric fencing to “fry” wild creatures that come for your offerings, then maybe this isn’t the hobby for you. Sitting in front of a TV, which plays the same movie over and over (so there are no changes, surprises, or adventures), might be a better choice.
No, not all people who have bird feeders end up like your friend. Most gaze out at their feeders, enjoy the variety of wildlife and let the creatures sort things out for themselves. But, like everything else in life, there are a few boneheads who want bird feeding to be something that it’s not – a rigid, predictable pastime. I feel sorry for those people.
Thanks again for your question, Ray. If you ever get to Cape Cod, I’ll buy you an ice cream. But leave your friend in New Hampshire. He and the black flies deserve each other.