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Birdwatchers Have More Fun
by Beth Boswell Jacks

I was thinking about that Colorado mountain climber the other day--you know, the guy who was trapped by an 800 pound boulder and freed himself by sawing his own arm off with a dull pocket knife. This is just way more than I can imagine. Or want to.

And this man smiles for the news cameras, adjusts his bandaged arm, and vows heís going to continue his solitary treks up and around rocky cliffs. Pardon me while I unwrinkle my brow. Donít misunderstand. Iím crazy about the great out-of-doors, but tippy toeing down a hot pier to the beach is about as uncomfortable as Iím willing to get.

Actually, Iíve become pretty doggone good lately at observing the great out-of-doors from my den couch--a sedentary pastime I should recommend to the mountain climber fellow because it certainly beats bleeding knuckles and severed arms.

My safe and pleasant couch pastime happened because, on a whim, I bought a sack of birdseed and set up 2 feeder pans on my patio. I can sit on the couch and watch the birds flock to feed. Now, in and of itself, my feeding the birds is no great alliance with Mother Nature. Itís spring. Thereís plenty of tasty stuff around for birds to eat. They could swoop down in almost anybodyís yard and feast. But I bought that sack of birdseed and canít throw the bag away until itís empty. So I fill the pans and they come. Big birds. Little birds. Blue jays. Sparrows. Black birds. Red birds. Pigeons.

And a squirrel.

The birds hate the squirrel--I know because they squawk like crazy when he comes around. They hate the squirrel because he trots up and promptly sits in the middle of the big pan and picks out all the sunflower seeds, which, Iím guessing, are the most delicious seeds in the lot.

Now that youíre bored silly Iíll get to the exciting part.

The other day I was lounging on the couch with my morning coffee and newspaper. Iíd put out the dayís allotment of birdseed, and I could hear the birds chirping and singing, happy with their gourmet breakfast. But soon the chirping and singing turned to squawking, a signal that the pesky squirrel had arrived.

Then what to my wondering eyes did appear but the brilliant redbird (the male, I understand) at my bay window. He sat on the pane ledge and fluttered his wings against the glass, as if to tell me to get my boo-tay off that couch and come out there and chase Mr. Squirrel away.

Honest. So I did.

The next morning the same thing happened. And the next.

After the fourth day I was completely mesmerized by the redbirdís behavior and found myself peering from behind my morning paper, hoping the squirrel would show up soon so the redbird and I could communicate.

When son Tom came for a visit I told him about this crazy scenario that was being repeated morning after morning with my bird friend, and Tom said, ďI was sitting here in the den this morning before you got up and I saw exactly what youíre saying. The redbird came to the window and fluttered his wings against the pane, and I looked out and saw a squirrel in the birdseed pan.Ē

See? Tom is my witness. Iím not making this up.

A faithful reader had written me a fascinating letter about her bird watching hobby, and I have to admit that when I read her words I shrugged and thought, ďWell, different strokes for different folks.Ē

But now I understand her fascination. And the best part about this bird watching is that Iím enjoying nature without having to saw off my arm with a dull pocket knife.

Iím real glad about that.


Writer Mike Bay sends this pithy reply to Beth's story:

Birds figure things out. I hate to say that since I like eating chickens and vegans argue I shouldn't eat chickens because they have thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams, too (I only dream of southern fried chicken with that luscious gravy o'er the spuds, but I digress).

Birds ain't dumb. Once they get used to an arrangement, they're insatiable. They know it's you who puts out the feed. They, therefore, know it's you who can, if you choose, regulate access to said feed. So when a non-bird begins monopolizing the tastiest morsels of the free buffet, they figure to send out the SOS by sending a bird in red to get your attention, and have you choose to run off the squirrel. At their covert insistence.

Why a bird in red, you ask?

Let's examine this. First 'he' knew to come to the window where your attention would be got (good eye for intelligence work, that bird; get him Pentagon credentials). Second, apparently some of the birds know how to interpret and correlate information on your habits and hot buttons by watching your daily routine and TV programming (probably through another window). Over time, copious note-taking and analysis of TNT programming, they've figured out that 'red' is a distress color, demanding of attention.

And since none of them can sit up and beg, barking their beaks off like Lassie, hence, the red bird afluttering in the window. If they'd been less studious they might have sent a blue bird, but probably one among them had heard the Bird of Paradise song and nixed that idea.

Finally, the obvious: the first time it happened, you responded in a manner the birds calculated and had counted on. And the second time. And the third. The conclusion: you're trained. But only by the red bird. Perhaps the birds read Pavlov.

My unsolicited suggestion? Don't ever watch Alfred Hitchcock's movie, The Birds. These boids don't need no fresh ideas.

It's bad enough they've trained you to chase squirrels. The dog and cat communities are going to be flummoxed over this.

Great column, Beth.

Mike Bay

Ye Editor asks: "Is he fun, or what?"


Editor of USADEEPSOUTH.COM and author of Grit, Guts, and Baseball, Beth Jacks also writes poetry and stories for childrenís magazines and small journals. A member of both the Mississippi and Louisiana Press Associations, Beth's Snippets column appears in a number of Deep South newspapers. Readers and editors may contact her at Ye Editor's E-Mail.

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