There’s an audible-only-to-squirrels-and-birds loudspeaker that booms over the neighborhood the minute seed is dumped into our bird feeder. Come and get it. Lunch is served.

Squirrels zoom in first, employing their high-wire acrobatics from the rhododendron bush next to the feeder. On an icy day the squirrel slides down the pole like greased lightening. Gears crank in its squirrel brain. Swearing accompanies its next try, and there is a successful landing in the middle of the trough.

In our house we believe squirrels need food too so we tolerate it, disgusting as it is. The frantic eating and nasty claws are evident through the living room window. These are ignoble eating habits. In fact, another squirrel hovers on the ground and seeds are tossed nonchalantly onto its head.

Next come the regal cardinals. Haughty Madame and Monsieur Cardinal take the stage. Diving into the seed quickly and delicately, each pick up one seed at a time. No plebian gorging here. It is pick up seed, crunch and spit. The husk flies from the side of the beak. I can only whisper this, but cardinals are my favorites. The male’s beautiful crimson body flashes by in flight. It’s also sweet that they mate for life. Apparently there aren’t the usual arguments about where to live or who takes care of the kids.

After the cardinals have eaten, Bully Blue Jay arrives and dismisses everyone. Everyone. Chattering aggressively, the first blue jay appraises the seed and nut mix as if to judge whether it’s worth his energy to take the time with it.  Apparently it passes inspection, because soon the jay’s strong beak is throwing sunflower seeds everywhere. In short order all the other jaybirds have gotten word and there are now three of them, their shiny blue and black feathers gleaming in the sun. Suddenly shy, they show a few manners to their like kind. Two hover obsequiously in trees and on the power line above and it seems like they are trying to act as if they aren’t hungry after all. Finally they approach and begin to take their fill. Everyone is standing by. The big birds require lots of food, and the blue jays take time relishing every kernel. The time taken seems to be a taunt to all the dun-colored, lesser birds perched and waiting in the rhododendron.

All the dignitaries have been sloppy. Seeds are strewn across the snow, even while the feeder is still loaded. Tiny birds hop frantically underneath waiting for a gift from above and pecking at the detritus below.

The male cardinal comes back apologetically and scans for food in the tray. He has no intention of being a bottom feeder.

When it’s over, it’s all over. Squirrels and birds alike go back to their business of doing whatever it was they were doing before the lunch bell rang. Quiet reigns until the next time the plastic bag is carried out to the feeder.


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