Until a bear bent our sturdy bird feeder like a pretzel, I was the happy voyeur of many a colorful bird that brightened the stark view out my kitchen window. Just a few weeks earlier I had experienced the overwhelming spectacle of sunny yellow evening grosbeaks. The first glimpse was thrilling enough—four or five crowding around the mesh cage full of seeds but when these diners had had their turn and flew back into the upper branches the next wave swooped down to take their place. I gasped as I took in the sight—dozens and dozens (seemed like hundreds) crammed the saplings with a glow so bright it warmed the snowy scene like a mid-summer’s day. The back and forth, up and down feeding frenzy continued until the food was depleted then they took off like a swarm of oversized bumblebees.
We did not replace the bird feeder. My husband prided himself on constructing tools that would last a lifetime. The iron pole was two inches thick and bored into the ground at least two feet deep to be as sturdy as possible. A hole was drilled in an unused wok that was attached upside down to discourage the squirrels. The bear had won this round. We kept the twisted metal souvenir as a reminder of how wild our surroundings were despite the comfort we enjoyed inside.
Luckily, we had not mowed down all the weedy looking plants that had gone to seed outside the front window which provided perches for hungry purple finches and slate colored juncos. We had, however, cut down a sizeable tree that had grown into the view of the mountains. Little did we realize, though, that we had created a dining table for our pileated woodpeckers (I say “ours” because the pair had built a nest within view of the house.) By what miracle was I lucky enough to glance out the window just when these huge birds settled on either side of the rotting stump to have a buggy breakfast on this cold morning? Their heads tilted forward and side to side as if they were discussing today’s headlines like any couple starting their day.
It is also lucky that I chose to take ornithology back in college to fulfill a science requirement. I had no idea what JOY I would derive over these many years by being acquainted with the nuances of spring vs fall warblers and downy vs hairy woodpeckers.
I hear that the grosbeaks are back this year following a predictable ten-year cycle. I spotted one outside my window resting for a moment while sizing up the slim pickings before taking off for the neighbor’s yard where the fully stocked feeders beckoned.