Going to the birds


In Alfred Hitchcock’s tale, a few seagulls dropped by a neighborhood in Bodega Bay, Calif., for no apparent reason and then lured sparrows and crows to join them in attacking the residents. My story is less suspenseful.

The subjects are starlings, sparrows, juncos, finches and flickers and the reason they come to my backyard is obvious: free eats. The only mystery is how the early arrivers managed to telegraph the availability of food to half the bird population of Bellevue.

When it snowed last January, my husband and I bought suet, seeds and dispensers, stored them in the garage – it was way too cold and icy for us to go outside – and forgot about them. This year we felt a renewed obligation to provide our avian neighbors with a handout. The local hummingbirds have been on welfare for years, so we asked ourselves, Why not add small perching birds to the list of recipients of our largesse and use the products we bought a year ago?

So, on a recent cold but sunny day my husband hung the feeders. Seeds, suet and the approach of winter came together to bring a few small birds to the hanging troughs, leaving the larger ones — robins and jays — to scavenge the leftovers that spilled to the ground.

What we didn’t count on was that five little birds had one hundred and five friends and relations and a fast way to contact them all. Soon the bird population parking in our our backyard measured up to the number of cars in the Bellevue Square garage the week before Christmas. The first five-pound bag of seed lasted more than the week, the second 10-pound bag four days. Yesterday we brought home a 20 pounder.

The bills we are now running up for bird feasts reminded us of the expenses of the “free” cat we brought home 15 years ago. Years of regular visits to the vet, following his going 10 rounds in the ring with another neighborhood feline, cost us enough to have purchased dozens with pedigrees. Now, as a senior pet, he needs high blood pressure medication, pain medication for his elbow, and high-priced food for his kidneys. At least he’s too old and arthritic to chase after the birds.

Despite my complaints, I admit that we do derive pleasure from these pets. The cat purrs all over us and keeps us warm, and the birds entertain us at a cost much cheaper than a movie. And if the situation gets too bad, we can ship them all to Bodega Bay.


Ann Oxrieder has lived in Bellevue for 35 years. She retired after 25 years as an administrator in the Bellevue School District and now blogs about retirement at http://stillalife.wordpress.com/.

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