A woodpecker started hanging around the oak tree outside our kitchen window. I'm not a bird person, particularly, but I noticed him the way I'd notice a flamingo.
A woodpecker gives meaning to the words high definition.
He's black where he's black, white where he's white, and his red head sets him off like the nose on a clown, only with more dignity.
I wanted to see more like him, so I went to a local nursery for bird feeders.
I pictured a slew of feeders in the tree, a dangling food court that would draw birds from miles around. Then I saw the prices. Holy moly, I thought.
These are seed dispensers, not standing rib roasts. Not that I don't want to do right by the birds, but I was hoping to give back in an ecological yet thrifty way.
I recalculated and bought a small wire box about the size of a six-pack of granola bars, along with a couple of suet cakes, not only the size of a six-pack of granola bars, but with mostly the same ingredients. I took these home, and my husband looked at the suet.
"Isn't suet more for winter?" he said.
Oh, great. I was about to embarrass myself in front of the very birds I had hoped to impress. Apparently, putting out suet in summer is like giving someone a poinsettia on July 4. No wonder the wire box was affordable.
Two days later, I tried again, this time at a different store. After examining the merchandise, I went home with a green-topped seed dispenser and a sack of songbird feed, which I chose over a bag of "woodpecker feed." Better to throw out a wide net, I thought, and songbird seed seemed the equivalent of "surprise me."
My husband, being taller, hung both feeders, and we began watching for flocks of grateful birds. "Suet -- what a fun idea!" I imagined them saying. "It must be Christmas in July."
They didn't come.
The few birds that appeared ignored the birdseed the way I ignore people preaching on a street corner.
I pictured myself running after the birds, feeder in hand. "This corn has your name on it," I'd say. My grandmother would say that when she wanted someone to keep eating. "This pork chop has your name on it," she'd say.
Then I remembered our neighborhood hawk and how he often perches on a telephone wire south of our house to observe his universe. When someone drives down our lane or walks up to the mailbox, he flies away as if we were Elmer Fudd and his shotgun. You'd think the hawk would recognize us -- we've been neighbors forever -- but he's just not built that way.
These smaller birds, no doubt, are like the hawk. Inside their feathery little bodies are some very hard wires.
I vowed to be patient. While I was doing that, I spotted the hummingbird feeder on our back porch.
My husband keeps it filled with fresh sugar water and at least one hummingbird regularly bellies up to the nozzle, wings whirring like the blades of a helicopter.
This mental image gave me a new worry.
Hummingbirds hover, but other birds need to pause, at least, to pluck seeds from the trough. Had I brought home a bird feeder at which no bird could feed?
I went out to look and was rewarded by the sight of a grackle clinging to the feeder's narrow edge.
The dispenser was swaying in the breeze, and the bird was giving a good impression of a person swinging on a chandelier. But it was eating. All was well.
That was a few weeks ago. The birds are familiar with the feeders now. They told their friends, who told their friends, and at any given moment, wrens and robins and grackles and birds I don't recognize are busy nibbling, chatting, squabbling and wrestling. If that is wrestling, and not something else.
Only one thing bothers me: I haven't seen the woodpecker since the feeders went up. Was it something I said? Is it the gentrification of the oak tree? Or maybe he just doesn't care for crowds.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.