The Winter Roost

A male house finch visits a backyard window feeder. Photo by Shutterstock.

I don’t use my front door very much anymore. 

Perhaps I’ll pop in and out of it once per day during the workweek. My pale claws might emerge to pull in a parcel on the days some Gift from the Internet arrives. 

Before the pandemic, I would fill my two clear acrylic stick-on window feeders, check the suet cake in its hanging cage, and add a heap of seeds to my hanging platform feeder every morning as I walked to my car to head to BWD headquarters. I’d pick up the glass yogurt pot turned birdseed distributor from the front porch and replace it beside the seed bucket (stored inside, away from the squirrels) when I returned in the evening. 

But when “going to work” came to mean rolling out of bed and shuffling to the next room, my daily feeder-filling ritual became a less regular practice. A cardinal’s plaintive peeping or a titmouse’s fussy titter could rouse me to consider the bellies of my backyard birds. And sometimes I’d suppose that my housecat would appreciate some stimulation from a busy window feeder and refill accordingly. 

Tufted titmouse

I didn’t feel too badly about becoming a delinquent feeder tender in the spring and summer, when natural food resources were in steady supply. It’s the inclement days that the guilt creeps up, when I’m least inclined to go outside. Not because of the novel coronavirus, but because I hate the cold. 

On this year’s extra-snowy Groundhog Day, as I was opening the curtains in the front room, the fuzzy head of a male house finch appeared in the bottom corner of one window, followed by his puffed-up little body. He stayed in his spot for several seconds after his reveal, blinking, pecking, and scratching at the seed hulls that littered the exterior windowsill. A squirrel had climbed into the long window feeder the day before, and the suction cups on one side failed to support its weight. As a result, the feeder slid sideways and down. As a result, this little strawberry-dipped-in-milk-chocolate of an avian visitor was looking for leftovers. I finally shifted, and my feathered valentine flinched and flew. It was only then that I looked down to see my cat’s upturned face. She’d been watching, too, just inches away from her favorite heater vent. 

A hungry and resourceful squirrel attempts to climb toward a window feeder. Photo by Shutterstock.

I continued opening the curtains, discovering as I did that the maple tree in my yard was (relatively) dripping with birds. There were many of the usual suspects: two tufted titmice, a pair of cardinals, one song sparrow, more house finches, a downy woodpecker, a smattering of chickadees, and one spare junco. The blue jays maintain separate visiting hours, the house sparrows come and go as they please, and the starlings show up in packs, then disappear for days. I haven’t quite parsed my mourning doves’ patterns yet. 

What moved me to briefly abandon the warmth of my living room? The song sparrow was doing a desperate scratch-hop dance in the pile of snow on top of the hanging platform feeder. That tears it. Half begrudgingly, half melting with bleeding-heart compassion, I put on boots and coat, loaded up my glass yogurt pot with black oil sunflower seeds, and trundled outside. 

Song sparrow. Photo by B. Wunderlich.

Everyone scattered, of course. But they didn’t go far.  

Someone had skipped across my front stoop in a crisscross pattern. A few seeds spilled into a heap as I bent to look at the tracks in the snow. I left them, figuring someone would enjoy the easy snack later. 

I refilled the feeders, replaced the one that the squirrel had knocked down, and then decided that a second helping might be in order for this snowy day. So, although motivating myself to maneuver through my front door just once can be an absolute ordeal these days, I went in and back out again with another round of seeds. Some of these I dispersed on the ground between the house and maple tree, out of respect for the juncos. Good deed for the day: check. 

I returned inside and bustled around with more human-focused activities for a few minutes. The cat clambered up her multi-tier condo to witness the action, the smaller of the two window feeders just inches from her perch. A little chicka-dee-dee-dee assured me that I’d done the right thing in completing a task I used to perform without thinking. A few minutes later, a look out the window revealed that, of the hungry mob that greeted me that morning, only one female cardinal remained in the tree, making her plaintive peeps as she carefully hopped down branches toward the feeder. 

Northern cardinal (female)

The birds come and go while I remain stationary in my oversized roost. The global circumstances that led to this arrangement are not ideal, but I appreciate the luxury of being able to choose to feed wild birds on a snowy winter’s morning, during a short break from a remotely worked job. What a time. 

 A follow-up: A few hours later, I was treated to the sight of two perfectly round song sparrows still eating the birdseed. One was seated comfortably on the platform feeder as it swayed in the wind, while the other grazed on the pile of spilled morsels on my front porch. 


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