For the Birds

Last week I watched as historic amounts of snow fell, engulfing curbs and walkways, drifting in feet against fences and obscuring cars. The human world slowed, then crawled to a stop. The snow kept coming. The trees sagged, some succumbing, losing their branches to the weight of wet, late-season snow. Animals took to their dens. For days hardly a thing moved under a cover of dirty grey clouds.

In the midst of this, the birds alone continued about their days, overseeing downed limbs and lines and the clearing of roads from above, bearing witness to the struggle of humanity to shelter and warm its own. For the first few days they seemed impervious. And then, on the third day, their hunger was revealed in the frantic attempts of a single, black-hooded junko, a ground feeder, to alight on our feeder, a struggle only intensified by the arrival of dozens more birds, thirteen species in a single hour during a break in the storm, jockeying for position.

This is all to say that I was reminded in that moment how intimately tied we are to other species and how drastically our relationship to the natural world has shifted in recent years. You see, you can walk for blocks in my neighborhood without finding another feeder, something that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. Our inside lives that value screens over windows have made them obsolete, but the birds, who pass on knowledge generationally, have not been informed. So they search in vain, for the house with the feeder that suits them, the suet block, sunflower seeds, or easily spilled feeder that lets them feast from the ground. Frustrated, they come to me, all of them, running a tiny bird soup kitchen on a frozen day, putting out trays and scattering seed on snow to accommodate the influx of visitors.

I do not think this should be so. It’s a simple form of giving, the feeding of the birds, and one that I believe nourishes us all, allowing us to connect to the larger world in spite of being driven into our own dens by even the worst of winter’s tempests. It’s a kind of small-scale gifting that helps the world be vibrant and diverse and creates communities of animals inclusive of humans. To feed the birds may be a form of feeding ourselves.