Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Today, There Are Only Hungry Birds

Boy, we’re having a genuine winter this year, aren’t we. Sue and I just got in from shoveling our six or so inches of snow, which, thankfully, was fluffy stuff and easy to toss away from our sidewalks with my trusty lightweight aluminum coal shovel (which came with the house).

While the sun was out, and while we were getting our workout, it actually didn’t feel that cold. But now that we’re inside with damp hair, and not moving anymore, now that the sun has gone behind a cloud, it’s starting to feel like that zero-degree weather we’re supposed to be having.

A look out our bathroom window, and I noticed more and more starlings perching on the small length of horizontal drain pipe connecting one section of gutter to another, in a place that’s sheltered by the eaves and out of the wind.

At one point, I counted fifteen of them, huddling together.

Now: I’m far from being in love with European starlings—they are exotic, invasive, noxious weeds of the bird world—but when it’s this cold, this bitter, this deadly, things are different. I’m on the side of life.

It reminded me of something my hero Edwin Way Teale wrote in his book A Walk Through the Year (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1978), for his entry for “January 4” (p. 326):

When we put out bird food these winter days we are as impartial as nature. The varied species compete, as they compete in the wild, for seeds scattered on the stone wall under the hickories and along the lane, for suet hanging in mesh bags from the apple tree, for food filling our different feeders. Bluejays share the sunflower seeds with chickadees and evening grosbeaks. Cowbirds feed among the tree sparrows. In these bitter winds of January, there are no “good” or “bad,” “beneficial” or “harmful” birds for us. There are only hungry birds.

Aside from the gray squirrels that we see coming in from the woods, bounding across the glitter of the ice crust, the birds, in their varied shapes and colors, are the most evident form of warm-blooded life today. And they will remain so all during the rest of the weeks of cold. The “dead of winter”—how much more dead it would be each year without the birds!

Birds can survive winter, provided they have enough food to stoke the fires of their metabolism. When there’s snow on the ground, birds can’t find food very easily. If you haven’t done so yet, go get yourself a bird feeder and some seed.

Because today, there are only hungry birds.


Anonymous said...

Way to rally for the starlings! They never came to my deck feeder until this week and while they kind of weird me out (the way they walk, their blackness, the sheer number of the buggers), I have to admit their feather constellations are very pretty.

I've never read A Walk Through the Year, but it sounds like Donald Culross Peattie's An Almanac for Moderns. Check that out if you haven't already, and I'll look into yours!

Kari said...


Here in east Texas we don't get quite as cold as in your area, but this has been the coldest winter we've had in many years. It was also the winter that two rufous hummingbirds decided to overwinter here. So in addition to feeding my regular winter feathered friends, I am keeping two hummingbird feeders out because two tiny birds cannot share one feeder. So far they have survived several mornings in the low teens and many in the low twenties, so they must be tough in addition to being mean. :)

I discovered your blog a couple months ago while searching for 'Maytag Dutch Oven' and I enjoyed reading through the older posts. I have a 1950s Chambers stove that I love, so I'm always happy when I see the old ones still in use.