I’ve been feeding the birds for several months, and I’ve come to an important realization: Birds are pigs.
“You are pigs,” I tell them from the kitchen window as they peck at the hanging feeder and swarm on the ground below it, arguing over the seeds that fall out when I replenish the supply.
I speak affectionately, of course. It’s true they can drain the feeder in no time, and while they don’t literally hover outside the window glaring at me and jerking their heads back to indicate the empty cylinder behind them, the effect is the same.
I’m surprised they aren’t leaving passive-aggressive notes on the back door. “We know how busy you are reading your phone, but when you get a minute, would you mind doing your job?”
That they consider the feeder my job is understood. Back when my husband first hung it on its branch, the birds held off a few days, probably suspecting a trick. I pictured them elbowing each other with their wings: “You go first.” “No, you go first.” Finally, some intrepid wren led the way, and now they’re out there at the buffet pretty much all the time.
If they aren’t eating, they’re doing the avian equivalent of standing around picking their teeth. Most of them are sparrows and starlings, to my husband’s chagrin, but hey, sparrows and starlings deserve to eat, same as everybody else. This feeder is open to all birds. “Willkommen! And bienvenue! Welcome!” is what I say.
I like to think that if the birds understand I’m calling them porkers, they also understand we’re all porkers together. I read the news. I follow current events.
What’s more, I’ve seen the trash strewn along the interstate’s ramps: the plastic straws and energy-drink cans and Styrofoam cups. I can’t fault the birds for greediness when humans, as a whole, are not yet eligible for any altruism prizes.
In fact, while I don’t know any actual pigs, I’ve heard they are clean, intelligent animals. If they knew I was comparing birds to them, they’d probably lawyer up and charge me with slander.
I sometimes wonder, though, if feeding the birds is helpful to them in the long term.
I’ve heard stories about people who feed deer. Deer have such tender, poignant faces; they make a person want to rummage in the crisper and take them romaine and carrots and homemade peanut-butter cookies for protein. But those who yield to that urge will look outside the next day and see the same deer and their entire extended family, all 700 of them, waiting expectantly for cookies and greens. So that’s out.
The wildlife around our rural house changes from season to season and year to year. Raccoons go and foxes arrive; the foxes disappear and rabbits flourish; the rabbits disappear and coyotes can be seen loping through the farm fields. (Let’s not dwell on what happened to the rabbits.)
I like coyotes in spite of my certain knowledge that the three we’ve seen near our house would gladly eat my dog. It’s possible, I’ve discovered, to both guard the dog closely and concoct little fantasies about leaving a meatloaf or something where the coyotes will find it.
I say we’ve seen three, but I was speaking from habit. In fact, only one remains. It stands out thanks to a lame leg that gives it an awkward gait that’s recognizable on the horizon. “There’s our coyote,” we say when we see a speck hitching along.
It’s tempting to name it, but I’m resisting the urge. For one thing, a person is more likely to feed a named animal. For another, I refuse to fall into the trap of having to say, “Great Aunt Scrappypants ate our dog.”
For now, my husband and I both admire the coyote’s resourcefulness while keeping a protective eye on the family pet.
So we don’t feed wild animals, but we do feed birds without worrying they’ll come to rely too much on handouts and forget how to eat insects and worms and what they find in the McDonald’s parking lot. At the least I’d like to give them a heads up: Don’t worry, I’d say. I’ll continue filling the feeder.
But don’t get soft. Keep foraging. You never know when you’ll have to live by your wits again.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.