Monday, August 24, 2009

The Animal Kingdom, Part 1

In the sleepy month of August, there is usually little news in the world to take our minds off the stifling heat and humidity of Washington. Luckily, the animal kingdom has provided some amusement that has alleviated the ennui somewhat. As I may have mentioned before, N. and I spend a lot of time on the front porch watching the world go by, and today's post is a front-porch tale.

While organizing the kitchen recently, I came across some items in the cupboard that one of my recent temporary tenants had left behind. These included organic unsalted sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and some other hippie food I had either not heard of or could not identify. Either way, I certainly had no intention of eating these items, that most likely would need to be soaked, ground, or leavened before use. I was about to throw this stuff away but thought I would save the sunflower seeds for the birds out front.

It all started innocently enough. I'd toss a handful of them down the steps, and the little sparrows or whatever would come by and eat them. Then, a few days later, they started showing up in the morning before I'd thrown any seeds down. They would look up at us on the porch, sternly, agitated by the absence of sunflower seeds. Hey buddy, where's my breakfast? So I threw them some seeds, and they seemed content.

Then they brought some friends. It wasn't just a few birds like before, it was a small flock, a dozen or more. All hopping impatiently around the sidewalk and front stoop, awaiting their handout. Images of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds started to materialize in my thoughts. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. But these are little birds, what harm could they do? They were cute, if slightly intense, and certainly entertaining. Little did I know that this was a harbinger of events to come.

A few days later, N. picked up a birdfeeder at Target. It was simple and attractive, and at $4.99 after its third markdown, a bargain. On Friday afternoon, the new birdfeeder was hung in the tree in front of our house. The birds seemed unaware of its purpose for at least a day. There was no evidence of any feeding Friday afternoon or much of Saturday. N. noticed that first bird had found it late Saturday. Hooray! Now they could feed themselves, and we would have a nice diversion to help while away the lazy summer days. In the beginning, it was delightful and pleasant. A bird here, a bird there. Sometimes two would land at once, and they would playfully bicker over a nut or seed that must have been especially tasty. The birds were happy, we were entertained. We went to sleep Saturday night pleased with our newfound diversion.

Sunday, everything changed. We were out for much of the day. Upon returning late in the afternoon, it was clear that all was not right. Though there wasn't a bird in sight, the bird feeder was swaying in the tree. Obviously, they had vacated quickly upon our approach. N. and I were unloading things from the truck. As I was putting a box away inside the house, I heard a scream from outside. Anxious, I ran to the front door. N. was staring at the birdfeeder, aghast. It was nearly empty. When we had left the house a few hours before, it was almost completely full.

How could a dozen sparrows clean out a birdfeeder, with at least a 6-cup capacity, in mere hours? What kind of ravenous beasts were these? How was it even physically possible? How would we afford the bird seed?

These questions were troubling indeed, but there wasn't time to think about the developments. As we urgently needed wine following our long day, we hurriedly cracked a bottle of Pinot Gris and settled into our regular porch-sitting positions. The birds had again increased their numbers. The new reinforcements numbered easily two dozen by one count. There was a noticeable amount of guano in the front yard, too. We watched them and drank. We drank and watched. We wondered if, perhaps, we owned the only bird feeder in Columbia Heights.

Monday morning, 7:15 AM. Today. I woke and leashed up Sully for his morning constitutional. As I emerged into the crisp August air (really, something you don't get very often in these parts), it seemed strangely silent in the front yard. Where were the birds? Perhaps sleeping in due to yesterday's indulgences? As I walked down the sidewalk towards Sully's favorite pooping spot near the asylum at the end of the street, I saw something deeply troubling.


Two pigeons were walking conspicuously on the sidewalk mere steps from my front door. I thought to myself, I've never seen pigeons on our street before. As I had been asleep minutes before, and had yet to consume my morning crack coffee, I was apparently a little slow on the draw. I did not make the connection between the ill-conceived bird feeder and the existence of pigeons on my street. Sully conducted his business amiably, if slightly slowly, and we returned home.

There was a pigeon sitting on the lamp post in front of my house. It sat there silently for a while, then flew to the tree briefly. Then it landed on my car. The sparrows never land on my car, I thought to myself.

There are several things that I absolutely do not want in front of my house.

1) Pigeons.
2) Pigeons in my tree.
3) Pigeons shitting on my car.
4) Pigeons anywhere near my house.

Finally, the rusty gears in my groggy brain began turning, and the light dawned. We had brought this upon ourselves. Somehow, word had spread in the avian community that there was a bird feeder on 11th Street and it was open for business.

Sadly, this experiment had to be terminated, a mere three days after its inception. I took the birdfeeder down this morning. I can only hope that it's not too late, that the damage has not been done. Only time, and pigeon shit, will answer that question.

It is a sad allegory for life. It just takes one bird running his mouth to ruin things for everyone. Foolish sparrows, why couldn't you just enjoy what had been given to you? Why did you have to tell all your friends? Somehow, the word had spread to the pigeons of 14th Street that there was a birdfeeder on 11th. But this is a civilized place, a place for sparrows and squirrels, not for rats and pigeons. Perhaps this may seem discriminatory. Why can't I show the same love for pigeons that I do for sparrows? Why would I selfishly shut down the birdfeeder for all, just because I don't want to feed pigeons? Is it their fault that they were born pigeons?

No, it's not. I don't hate pigeons inherently. But I'll tell you why I don't want them on my street.

Because pigeons shit on my car and I can't afford 50 pounds of bird seed every week.

Look for The Animal Kingdom, Part 2: Cats and Dogs coming soon.

Picture of field sparrow from the Audobon Society. I took a picture once of a sparrow in my front yard. It would have been a really good picture, because it was of a sparrow making off with a chicken bone. Certainly something you don't see every day. Unfortunately, it didn't come out.


Anonymous said...

The same thing happened to us last year. We are on 13th St. At first it was lovely seeing the doves, cardinals & sparrows, but then came the pidgeons, rats & crap! We were going thru huge sacks of seed in a week. No more feeder, we will just have to hope for the occasional visitor.

lacochran said...

I was putting food out for a stray cat I'd seen in my yard a couple times. Then, one night, I looked out to see a possum eating the food. From that point on, the cat was on its own.

Anonymous said...

A.Parakeet says: Same here. Cute birdfeeder becomes sparrow/starling poop central, birdfeeder down after 1 week.
Yes, my AC is awful - unbalanced, poorly installed, leaky ducts, crunched vents. I pointed that out to the developer (Gary Case)who was selling it as a flip and he said "house as is" on that issue because it was all built and by that time enclosed in the walls. No way to repair. I wish I hadn't bought it.

Jamie said...

Bummer. Nothing's unfixable, really, if money's no object :-). But you ought to be able to improve the situation without too much expense by adjusting the flow to each vent. If the a/c contractor wasn't a total loser you should have louvers inline near the air handler so you can restrict the flow of air to each outlet. If you close the louvers that go to the downstairs, it will force more air upstairs. If you don't have such things, they can be installed pretty easily and inexpensively. It may not make it perfect but should help.