Among the books I own which I preserve not because I’ll ever read them is a slender volume on why we must enforce the local laws against feeding wild birds. This was given to me by someone who found it disgusting, and wanted me to read itso I would understand what intolerant people there are in the world. I do not need this book to understand that point, so it rests on the shelf as a memorial to the defiant bird feeder who thrust it into my paws.
I have known several defiant bird feeders.
In some parts of this world, like the town where I grew up, feeding the birds is a matter of personal choice. My parents eventually had nearly a dozen bird feeders, along with a couple of places where, in self-defense, they fed the squirrels as well. New devices to keep the squirrels out of the feeders intended for flying visitors were always worth a try in the effort to give the birds a bit of sustenance through the snowy season. There were plenty of other people who similarly tried to support the migration crowd, and swapping of notes about grosbeaks and cedar waxwings was a congenial way to pass the time. (We were not the only ones in the world with a small portable heating device for the birdbath, for birds do not live by seed alone.)
But living in a city, you find that this way of life is by no means universal. Feeding the birds is, in fact, forbidden by law in my neighborhood, a neighborhood where real estate values are all, and investors point out that scattering bread or seed on the ground can attract rats. Rats are a little scarce in my neighborhood, and this argument is often supplemented by the warning that feeding birds also attracts BIRDS. Pigeons are just not decorative, we are informed, and lower property values and, in any case, all birds, until such time as some good soul provides birdy bathrooms, leave spots on the sidewalk, and clean sidewalks are key to selling your condo. (One of the defiant birdfeeders I will mention always growled “There’s an easy way to fix that. Go buy a house somewhere and take care of the sidewalks yourself.”)
As noted above, however, human nature will not be denied. Some of us just feel a need to look after our feathered fellows, and will not obey the rules. One birdlover I worked for, who held a patent for a security device you could affix to your birdhouses to hold predators at bay, always carried croutons about her person. This may have been before the days when security cameras were planted at the corner of every building, or she may have figured no one would worry about her tossing a few croutons in the grass. She HAD been spotted once or twice, and reprimanded, so she had developed a method for foiling marauding rats.
She explained it to me once. “I count the birds on the lawn,” she said, “And put out just one crouton for each. There won’t be any leftovers for the rats to find.” I was quietly agog at her dedication.
The growling birdlover I mentioned earlier tried to make sure she had a plastic bag of birdseed in her coat pocket when she went out in winter. It wasn’t a lot—just a sandwich bag full—but she would use this supply and replenish it several times each week. (She would have tossed out more, but she knew she was being watched.) A handful of seeds, she felt, would be quickly dealt with, and the birds were good enough at this to make sure nothing was left to encourage browsing rats.
What impressed me most about her, though, was that she had made her peace with the squirrels as well. Next to the baggie of wild bird mix was generally a second bag with peanuts or croutons for her furry friends. She liked animals (but was allergic, so she could never have a four-legged pet.) She told me once, as we were leaving work, that she had learned to talk to them.
I replied that my parents talked to squirrels, too: a lot. Most of this was “Get out of that feeder, you mangy besom!”
“No no,” she told me. “I talk squirrel. Watch.”
We were walking past a small park and stopped to chitter. I waited to see if a squirrel would respond.
But whatever she said was the squirrel equivalent of “Red Light Special in the Beer Aisle!” Every squirrel in that tree-shaded block came at us: a hundred? A thousand? Ten million? The grass before us was suddenly an undulating carpet of eager squirrels. Impressed? I was stunned.
So was she. “Oh dear,” she said, lapsing into human. “And I don’t have anything for you!” She turned to me and asked if I had any bread or something on my person, but I was totally unprepared. She apologized to the squirrels (in human) and they gradually departed, slowly, as if they thought she was kidding about not having any croutons.
I have not yet sold my screenplay for a sequel to “The Birds” called “The Squirrels.” It may just be because Hitchcock isn’t here to direct it.