In the care of the birds

The following post was written Sunday afternoon. I am posting it today, Friday, from my hospital bed because it somehow seems appropriate for the events of this week…. 

This morning I went out to the deck to check on the herbs – they were all green and glowing, untouched by the 30-something lows this weekend. The three pots that were in the mini-greenhouse looked fresh as summer. I am thrilled at the prospect of harvesting fresh herbs into the winter.

While I was standing there, suddenly a confab of birds gathered in the two trees nearest the deck and started yakking loudly. It was strange – like an actual conference – I saw chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, juncos, a wren or two, all in very close proximity, and new ones kept joining the gathering, as though converging on a town square to hear the news.

It was really surprising to see this mix of birds all so closely together, and seemingly unperturbed by my presence very close by. They clearly saw me, and didn’t seem bothered when I moved, which usually would scatter them.

Then I thought: What if they’re talking to me? 

It’s Nov. 15 – time to put the feeder out. Usually November 1 is the beginning of feeder season, because the bears are asleep by then. But this year it was so warm that I didn’t dare to put it out before now.

So I put up the feeder. Within 15 minutes, I heard the familiar “chip, chip, chip,” and saw that the chickadees were all over it. There was a titmouse also. But then, another surprise, a couple of small woodpeckers – I think they were downy woodpeckers, with their orange heads and thin-striped wings – flew in and out, chasing away the other birds, but not staying to eat. They seemed too big for the perches; the feeder swung wildly when they landed, and they didn’t light long enough to get any seed.

I know the angles to stand at inside, where they don’t seem to notice me. I can get really close – less than two feet from the window, and the feeder is inches from the glass (that’s on purpose – so that they don’t try to fly through it and break their necks).

It never ceases to be a thrill to observe a truly wild creature up close, even doing something as mundane as feeding. And at least with feeding birds in winter, you know you are actually helping their survival, rather than making them dependent on human food.

As I made lunch, I watched a pair of chickadees trade off on the western feed spout. I wondered if they were guarding each other – one feeding while one watched for predators – or just competing for a favored spot. The latter behavior mystifies me – I’ve seen it often – but I don’t understand why they can’t share the six feeding slots and all eat at the same time?

So many things about animal brains that I don’t understand. 
But watching them is one of the compensations for the loss of trees that is coming so soon, their last leaves drooping even now.

All the long hours ahead of looking out at dreary leafless trees and cloudy mountains … feeding the birds will keep me connected to that pulse of life that never leaves, even in winter. 
Today’s penny is a 2015 … for Nov. 15.