Feeding the birds is a pleasant chore in winter. On frosty cold mornings, bundle up warm, sling a bag of seed over my shoulder and head outside with the blue jays' breakfast.
Sometimes it is still dark, and I cannot see the bird feeder. But I know I'm getting close when the sunflower seed hulls crunch beneath my feet. Birds aren't too good at clearing the table.
I locate the tray and fill it with sunflower seeds. Then it's back inside for a hot drink and a closer look at the birds' buffet, which is in plain view from the kitchen table.
My motives are not wholly altruistic. Feeding birds in winter is part of every gardener's plan to ensure their help in eliminating insect pests come spring. Birds are the bodyguards of my garden: more efficient, less expensive and notably safer than any chemicals cooked up by man.
Sipping tea, I await the arrival of my favorite feathered friends: the handsome cardinal, dressed for a masked ball; the nervous sparrow, edgy as Barney Fife; and the cunning blue jay, the Artful Dodger of birdland.
So who is the first to hit the breakfast bar? A flock of greedy crows that descends on the feeder like so many winged piranhas.
There's not a cardinal in sight. It figures. I wanted pretty Disney songbirds. Instead, I get Heckle and Jeckle.
Worse, the crows ignore my requests to leave. "Scram, you stupid crows!" I hiss, tapping on the window. The tapping awakens Katydid, our dog, who is sure there is a deliveryman at the door, and feels obliged to tell me so.
The din doesn't faze the birds, who just keep eating.
Exasperated, I run outside, waving my arms and screeching in an effort to chase the intruders. It works, but only while I'm screeching -- in part because I am running around barefoot. The crows return to the feeder before I can limp inside and slam the door.
Will nothing faze these bothersome birds? In desperation, I kneel at the window and pray for squirrels.
My wishes are answered. Within minutes, two fat gray squirrels are scrambling across the yard and bellying up to the bar. I'll call them Norm and Norma. Ordinarily, I treat squirrels and crows alike. Neither is welcome at my feeder. But Norm and Norma are my last chance to beat these birds. Cheers, guys.
Sure enough, the squirrels climb the feeder pole, brush the crows aside and start eating. The birds protest in vain. Squirrels ignore angry crows much like crows ignore man.
Take that, you crummy birds!
Now the question is: How do I get rid of the squirrels? Norm and Norma have wriggled their way inside the door of the tiny wooden feeder where, in their gluttony, they appear to be stuck -- and getting stucker. The squirrels' cheeks are as big as their bellies, yet still they keep munching away.
They remind me of a group of kids who, in the '60s, tried to all squeeze into a Volkswagen. The kids got stuck, too, until someone's mom cried "Supper!" and one guy emerged from the pretzel of bodies.
The gang still calls me Houdini.
I would try the same trick on the squirrels, except they are already swimming in seeds. However, there is a hungry dog watching intently from the window. Katydid loves to chase squirrels, though she has only caught one in her life, and then only because the unfortunate thing fell out of a tree and landed on the dog's head.
Should I turn the dog loose? What choice have I got? I glance athe feeder and see wall-to-wall fur. The sides are bulging, the pole trembling. The feeder could explode, sending squirrel shrapnel flying. Worse, Norm and Norma could suffocate in there. Yet they continue to feast as if finishing their last meal.
Not in my feeder!
"Sic 'em!" I say as the dog bounds out the door, barking at life in general. Then she spots the squirrels and runs toward the feeder.
Guess what? The squirrels weren't as stuck as I thought.