We're All Damaged

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Bird Whisperer

Strangely, the thing that excited me the most about moving to the suburbs was the prospect of putting up a bird feeder in the yard.  I’ve always identified with birds.  There’s something very writerly about them—their twitchiness, misplaced aggression, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and how they’re always banging their faces into windows.

A few minutes after the boxes were off the trucks and stacked at random in our new house, I made up a vague excuse to go to Loews where I bought two bird feeders, two bird feeder polls, and a bag of birdseed the size of a small, Europe road car.

When I got back home I found two perfect spots away from the squirrel-infested trees, stuck the polls into the ground, and filled the feeders, spilling a good bit into the grass.  Then I went to the deck and waited.

I’d been thinking about these stupid bird feeders for two months.  I’d turned them into a metaphor that represented the next stage of my life—suburban novelist, husband, father of two.  My late grandpa was a bird guy, and I liked the idea of being one, too.  I went so far as to buy a small field guide, The Birds of the Mid Atlantic Region.  I imagined sitting quietly, drinking some kind of exotic, expensive alcohol, as the craziest birds known to mankind converged on my yard.  I’d take pictures of them and put them on Facebook and people would like them.

Two days later…there were no birds.  None.  In fact, I had no proof that a single bird had so much as landed on one of my feeders.

My wife bought me a different bag of birdseed.  She knows as little about birds as I do, but it seemed logical that the industrial-sized bag of whatever it was I’d bought was somehow off-putting to the uppity birds of Towson, Maryland. 

I refilled one of the feeders, leaving the other full of the original seed, hedging my bet, and then I waited again. 

On day five, two cardinals, a male and a female, landed on the feeder closest to the deck.  Cardinals are fairly pedestrian birds, if we’re being honest.  In fact, my grade school was the St. Roberts Cardinals, all red and white and Catholic.  But it was something—actual birds—and so I held my breath, not wanting to scare them off. 

The male bird stuck his face into the pile of untouched birdseed.  He shook his head around a little, flinging some seeds onto his girlfriend.  Then they both looked at each other and did what I can only describe as a bird shrug before flying off into the woods. 

“You guys suck,” I said.  And then I went back inside.  


  1. I know it sounds incredibly boring, but that's one of the great pleasures of owning my home. I have so many birds, and there is a cardinal couple that comes around pretty much every day.

    Like you, my late grandfather loved birdwatching through the picture window at the house he built and kept binoculars close by. Cardinals were his favorite, so I've always been particularly warmed by their decision to frequent my yard.

    Sorry they don't like your bird feed. :) I don't have any out, but they really like the redbud tree in the back.

  2. Good news, Picky Girl! The Cardinals adjusted to our food and have basically moved in. We see them all the time now. The female seems to boss the male around a bit. And she likes to chase the sparrows away. She's tough.