Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Icy Morning at Seed & Suet Fast Foods

Our landscape this morning is January Piedmont Maryland —ground covered by an inch of snow topped by a quarter inch of frozen rain. Icy green needles of pine boughs kiss the ground. Schools are closed. Offices are opening late. Parking lots are ice rinks. Road crews salt the roads, though antiquated “salt” apparently has been replaced by “treat with chemicals.”

A morning like this calls for extra black oil sunflower seeds for the birds. I creep along the slick asphalt toward the bird feeder, a full scoop of seed in my right hand, both arms slightly extended in an attempt to maintain balance.

I fill the feeder, and toss a handful of sunflower seeds here and there under nearby shrubs—the Russian sage, the butterfly bushes, the Blue Princess holly, the two Montgomery spruces.

Back in the warm house, I watch. Which birds will arrive first? The sun has yet to rise behind the white pines and storm clouds, but within minutes juncos and cardinals, alpha-types trying futilely to protect their feeding areas under the shrubs. A song sparrow flies to the feeder, then a house finch, and a chickadee or two. A titmouse pecks at the suet in our upside-down feeder.

The small birds scatter—momentarily—as a huge, black shape swoops in—a crow. But something’s different about this crow. It hops instead of walks. Its right leg doesn’t work at all, stiffly stretching along the bird’s right side.

I wonder what life is like for a one-legged crow. Can it land and perch on a limb to scan the landscape for food, or to roost at night? Does its black-feathered family assist somehow?

And then a gray, furry critter arrives, again momentarily scattering the birds. But they soon fly back and search for seeds just inches from the squirrel.

I wonder how a cardinal knows the squirrel isn’t a predator—that it’s not one of the feral cats that roam the neighborhood and stalk the birds—and the squirrels, I suppose—that come to dine at Seeds & Suet Fast Foods?

Perhaps I’ll never answer such questions. If you have thoughts that might help me, please post a Comment.

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