Stepping in for Mom

Moma, the woodpecker. She got her name because she brought her young each spring and taught them to find food at Mom's cabin.
Moma, the woodpecker. She got her name because she brought her young each spring and taught them to find food at Mom’s cabin.

I keep track of sunny days, to take care of the birds. I can’t simply fill the feeder, because of the squirrels. They have figured out how to get the top off the feeder. Those dang squirrels actually climb inside the feeder and munch seeds till they’re full. The reckless climbing in and out tips the hanging feeder and spills its entire contents on the ground in minutes. We are left with a pile of seeds two inches deep that eventually gets rained on and rots in a pile.

Thus I am forced to go out daily and fill only the tray around the outside. I spread handfuls of sunflower seeds directly on the mossy ground, to tempt the squirrels to stay away from the feeder, which holds mostly millet for the finches and chickadees.

Squirrel doing acrobatics to get at the bird seed in the feeder.
Squirrel doing acrobatics to get at the bird seed in the feeder.

Rainy days happen often here in Portland, as I know you’ll assume. The birds are as excited about dry mornings as the people are, and arrive in my backyard in bursts of wings and twitterings. The large clumsy jays swoop in, attempt to perch on the ledge of the feeder, and spill teaspoons of seeds each time they kick off in search of a sturdy branch.

As I scanned the spotless grey blue sky this morning, watching the pink and eggshell splashes growing brighter in the East, I began thinking about my mother, and her birds. She felt an obligation to secure the health of the animals on her mountain. Her kitchen window looked directly onto two separate feeding stations outside. The birds on the mountain became like misbehaved children, begging for breakfast if she didn’t get outside in time. The favourite, Moma the woodpecker, would dive bomb the kitchen window. (She still does this to Jim, who stuffs cookies into the hole in a piece of wood mounted by the back porch, just for this purpose.)

My mother at her kitchen window.
My mother at her kitchen window.

Who will take care of the birds in a world without my mother? Jim has to take care of his business. And he’s encouraged the company of a wild cat, to take care of the mouse population. It has also discouraged the company of birds and squirrels at the cabin.

Arno asked me if I’ve always kept a feeder. I have not. But this morning I realized that sometime during 2012 I began feeding the birds for my mom.

I felt for a moment as though I was channeling her spirit. When I am late to feed them, and I go outside for something else, birds suddenly begin appearing in the trees around me. They hover above me, and perform brave, rapid fly-bys to ensure they have my attention. “Food!” they call to me. “Make seeds happen!”

I’ve got nuthatches, chickadees, Western Scrub Jays, crows (who prefer leftover scraps I throw out), and sometimes surprise visitors like the ruby crowned kinglet and the gorgeous red shafted Northern flicker who, despite her size, can perch gracefully on the feeder ledge, hanging most of her body below and selecting seeds one at a time. The other day, when I tossed out the remains of Tara’s gingerbread house, we were¬†visited¬†by seagulls, who look enormous next to the others.

They aren’t the same birds. These aren’t even wild forest birds. But today, birds are being fed in honor of my mom.

Seagulls perched on the roof of the garage.
Seagulls perched on the roof of the garage.
Hanging beneath the feeder.
Hanging beneath the feeder.

 

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