Free Bird!

by Mike McHugh
130321 Free Bird While Yankee Land is still getting pummeled by Winter Storm Heathcliff (or whatever the self-appointed storm-namers at the Weather Channel are calling it), spring is in the air here in Louisiana. The signs are everywhere. Crawfish are running; daffodils are blooming; and sinuses are draining faster than the beer kegs at MacFarlane’s Pub on St. Patrick’s Day.

Hay fever is an unwelcome side-effect of the warming weather, and it’s specially hard on Yankees who live in these climes. I believe it’s Mother Nature’s way of getting back at them for what they did to New Jersey. As we know, hay fever is neither a fever, nor is it caused by hay. The real cause is my wife’s flower garden. Her annual pilgrimage to the garden center, where she buys about century’s worth of annuals, is yet another sure sign of spring. Not that I’m against flowers, you understand. They’re fine in their place, so long as that place does not include certain wallpaper patterns.

But I’m not here to discuss flowers or hay fever. My real topic today is birds. For the first time, my wife dragged me along on this year’s flower-shopping trip. It may have been retribution for taking her to that reptile show. At any rate, while she was going around selecting impatiens, begonias, snapdragons, crackletrolls, popsicles, and whatnot, I took interest in the store’s attractive display of bird feeders. I was amazed at the designs—made to represent everything from simple log cabins to the Sydney Opera House. I could imagine a giant nuthatch perched atop the Sydney Opera House, pecking away violently at the structure, shaking it so as to make a performance of Swan Lake look more like a rugby match. There was a great variety of seed, too, each one specially mixed to attract certain types of songbirds, some which, according to the packaging, could do a mean Lynyrd Skynrd. That sold me right there, and so I went for one of the rustic-looking feeders, my wife not being too keen on the whole birdzilla thing.

When we got home, I set up the feeder in a tree in the backyard, while my wife tended to her annuals with the backhoe. Then I sat back and waited for “Free Bird”.

No birds visited the feeder on that first day, nor the next. My wife reasoned that it would take time for the birds to discover the food. I didn’t believe that. The way I figured, seeing as how flies can detect fresh hamburger meat in a millisecond, how much longer should it take for a bird to find a free meal? They can’t be that much more stupid than flies. In terms of intellect, birds would have to compare to flies to the same degree that Jessica Simpson does to super-physicist Stephen Hawking.

“Any customers yet?” I asked my wife a few days later. She answered that there were not.

It eventually dawned on me why the birds weren’t taking us up on our offering. This is Louisiana, after all, home to about two million of the world’s one million known species of insect. We consider almost all of them to be pests, but to our feathered friends, they are a veritable smorgasbord. Setting out birdseed around here is like taking a three-bean salad to your grandbaby’s birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese.

The feeder also had wire baskets designed to hold a substance called “suet”. Suet is supposed to be especially attractive to songbirds, the way that Jack Daniels was to members of the Allman Brothers Band. Back in the day, you could set a fifth of Jack Daniels out on the porch, and you’d be virtually assured a Dickey Betts sighting. But, alas, suet does not have seem to have that same allure vis-à-vis songbirds, and when you realize what’s in it, it’s easy to see why. Suet’s ingredients include rolled oats, cornmeal, and unsalted nuts, formed into a cake with solid fats, such as lard. While that might go over well in the galley of a pirate ship, any self-respecting goldfinch would surely turn his beak up at it.

My wife remains optimistic. Her current theory is that it may be too early in the season for songbirds. Like they’re all still down in South America, on the final leg of a seventeen-city winter tour. Me, I have my doubts.

Maybe I should have passed on the feeder and just waited for the CD.

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