I reconnected with some old “friends” this past weekend. Many months had passed since the last time we got together, but as often is the case, we picked up right where we left off.
It helped that I brought several of their favorite snacks and dishes for the occasion. Food is always a great relational unifier. No sooner had they noticed the spread than they began flocking together en masse.
Some were so busy eating that they didn’t have time to say anything, while a couple of the more garrulous among the growing group seemed more intent on chatting than eating. A few mingled on the fringes, curiosity seekers — not interested in what was for dinner, yet drawn to investigate what all the commotion was about. Others tried talking and eating at the same time, and, well, you know how that often turns out. But what’s a few spilt crumbs, or seeds as the case may be, when old friends get together?
By now, of course, you know the “friends” I’m talking about are of the feathered variety. Chickadees, downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, hummingbirds and cardinals helped themselves to sunflower and safflower seeds, sugar water and suet dough, nyjer and sunflower chips, peanuts and tree nuts.
It was the sort of banquet spread not seen in our backyard for a long time, not at least since I left my family behind and moved into our cabin in northeastern Minnesota more than two years ago to deal with some health problems. Stephanie, who enjoys birds almost as much as I do, put out feed on occasion, but between working full time, caring for our two kids and fulfilling all the other duties of managing a household, filling feeders wasn’t high on the priority list. When I moved back to Ames last week, the backyard was eerily quiet.
One of the great things about backyard birding, however, is that the subjects are quite forgiving. If you forget about them, they just keep on doing what they need to do to survive. If you come around to putting out food for them again, it might take a few days for them to find it, but eventually they will. And they’ll keep coming as long as you keep filling the feeders. It’s a good thing for some of us that birds don’t hold grudges.
Birds, like any other creature, are opportunists. Give them a handout, and they’ll gladly take it. But if you fail to feed them for a day, a week, a month, or longer, don’t worry, wild bird populations don’t need the food offerings of humans in order to survive. They’ve taken care of themselves for millennia and will no doubt continue to do so for as long as they inhabit the Earth.
Still, for some of us, there’s great fun to be had by hanging a few feeders and filling them with food. It’s a sure-fire way to reconnect with old “friends” and an opportunity to even make a few new ones.
Todd Burras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.