Saturday, May 22, 2010

To Feed or Not to Feed

I admit it. I'm a geek birder, someone who gets so excited at seeing a pileated woodpecker (yes, in my state, awhile back) that I do not object to stopping the car in the middle of the road, leaving car doors agape while we all stab our binocs into the woods to scan intimate details of a bird that is rare around here.

I admit it. I'm a gawker, staring out the window for long, long stretches while ostensibly doing dishes, savoring the antics of rollicky gold finches who happen to dine upside down.

I admit it. I get a bit nervous when I've run out of the good birdseed and ponder the notion that I'm "neglecting" the feathered ones who have learned to dine at my feeders.

I always thought that being a birdfeeder was a good thing, that consistently putting out high quality seed was a pro-bird kind of thing.

Then this spring I heard from an advocate/researcher/birder who's been similarly smitten for three decades that maybe birdfeeding isn't such a good thing. Maybe the resulting imports of invasive flora and fauna are too damaging. Maybe the increased predation that birds face in backyards, predation from domestic cats, isn't worth the price of a daily handout. Maybe the birds' dependence on "welfare" meals isn't something that helps species in the long run.

But today, today after hours and hours and hours of non-stop rain, I'm convinced that being a birdfeeder is a good thing, that feeding birds is an act to be continued.

Why this epiphany on a rainforest day in the high desert? It's because of who's been visiting my feeders. It's because my efforts at providing safely situated dining rooms, along with fresh water and lots of trees, shrubs, and flowers, have made this small yard a refuge for songbirds. In the past few days I have been blessed to watch brilliant lazuli buntings peck good seed from my feeders and drink clean water from my bird baths. I am sorry if you have never seen a lazuli bunting up close. They are stunning: tropical turquoise, coral, and white dress these sweet finches. Their flash of blue through the garden is absolutely hypnotic. I've stationed myself at windows, perched myself on a futon in the sunroom, peered from behind living room drapes, just so I could gaze at these gorgeous birds.

And today, throughout this rare deluge, these jeweled buntings have been ravenous at my feeders. It's almost 7:30 pm here and, as I've written, a soaked bunting has been persistently gobbling the seed in a feeder beneath my crab apple tree. Can I offer this little trooper some refuge? Come on in the sunroom, out of the rain...I'll just leave a window open for you. The dogs can just stay in the house for awhile. You rest. Let those azure feathers dry a bit.

Yes, I will continue to feed birds. Maybe it is all about me, about my being able to savor the blessing of the turquoise zips of lazuli bunting. But maybe it is more. Maybe feeding birds helps folks like me connect with the natural world, a union that is increasingly difficult to forge. Maybe feeding birds gives us town folk a way to exchange our arrogant dominance over nature for a humbler, more durable companionship with things not human. Maybe more of these connections will help us maintain life on this planet a bit longer.

I'm thinking that's the lesson I've learned this week from the spectacular lazuli bunting. I'm thinking the answer to the question posed in this post's title is resoundingly clear: I shall continue "To Feed."

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