Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A bird garden

The earth wore its winter whites for the first time last week. Wet snow began falling Saturday night. It never covered the streets and was gone by Tuesday, except for occasional rectangles of shady lawns. Monday, a gray day, had the full been-through-winter expression. It smelled, looked, felt, and sounded like winter. It felt like it was raining, or spitting thin slivers of icy moisture (does that qualify as rain?), even when it wasn’t. The air smelled as if it were about to snow.
Life, these days, is for the birds. Anne filled the bird feeder with a bag of black-jacketed sunflower seeds about a month ago. But the seed level didn’t go down. No early birds livened up dark morning breakfast scenes. Fat gray squirrels gathered hopefully underneath the feeder, waiting for the birds to shake down the seed.
We had birds all last winter, but somehow the word had not gotten out this year. Weren’t the sunflower seeds dressing in black this year? It took the season’s first snow to trigger their arrival.
How does that work, exactly? Oh, thinks Starling Robin, when the green earth turns white we find our way to the berry path on North Central Avenue. Seed will cover the snow there surely. Starling Robin proves correct. Birds small, medium and very small found their way to the feeder, and the seed line dropped precipitously.
Actually, we had spied a few birds there for the first time this fall a day or two before the snowfall, as if scouting the location. Never know when we might need it; better make sure the thing’s still working.
Small creatures first, including sparrows with tiny, but dashing red patches around the head or shoulder. The next day blue jays appear on the feeder ring above, and pigeons glean below. I’m not sure where pigeons live around here, but this is a city.
Birds play a big part in the life of the calendar in this climate. In addition to entertaining us in the winter by bringing color and life to our window watching, they eat our berries in the spring, getting to the ripe blueberries a day before I do, and spreading mulberries all over the walk. They also succeed in depositing enough of those sunflower seeds in various precincts of the garden that we always have a few unplanned sunflower plants maturing the following high summer.
Bird life in the garden makes me happy all through the growing season, and I want to grow plants that encourage them to come back every year and stay though the fall and winter. The bee balm attracts humming birds, and the purple fruit of the mulberry tree draws all comers in June. I look forward to growing enough blueberries and raspberries to keep both the birds and us satisfied next year. (Fat chance.)
For the time being we grow cold days and snow fields and look forward to counting the cardinals at the feeder. The shock of red visitors against the snow is a winter gift each year.