This is a story of what Soccer Dad did to fill an empty nest.
I’ve known this guy forever. Since he was born, in fact. Soccer Dad spent years coaching his kids and others. He had no interest, or perhaps no time, for birds. (He never read this column. That’s a serious lack of interest.)
So, his two kids go away to college. No more soccer for dad.
He teaches; there was free time during the winter holidays. He called me just after Christmas.
“I bought a bird feeder and 20 pounds of seed.”
I’ll be jiggered.
Wonderful, I said.
“It’s hanging right outside our kitchen window. Birds were there in half an hour.”
“Perfect,” I said.
I explained that he could do well with black oil sunflower seeds instead of the more expensive mix he had.
Text message the next day: “I bought 100 pounds of sunflower and another feeder.”
Sometimes it’s the sight of a special bird that inflates interest. Or, maybe, all of my bird stories were remembered. Whatever, right? Suddenly, birds seemed like a good idea. Why doesn’t matter.
The calls and texts continued over the next week. An empty nest no more, pun intended.
A thistle-seed feeder. A suet feeder. A heated bird bath. A post-mounted platform feeder, gift from a friend.
Text message: squirrels on his platform feeder. Move the post, I told him. Buy a baffle.
I gave Soccer Dad a new Peterson bird ID book, and the book “Wild About Birds” by Carrol Henderson, who recently retired from the non-game division of the Department of Natural Resources. His is the best book on Minnesota yard birds.
Suet logs appealed to Soccer Dad. From a neighbor’s woodpile he got a two-foot log in which he drilled one-inch holes. He hammered them full of suet.
Text message: “Birds love the log.”
As the holidays faded he collected three discarded Christmas trees. He leaned them against his fence, eventually deciding that for cover, birds prefer live arborvitae bushes to dead decorative spruce.
In mid-January he hiked across a nearby lake to a wooded edge and dragged home a dead branch about 12 feet long, thick enough to hold more suet.
Text message: The birds chose the longer log.
A Cooper’s hawk drove a junco into Soccer Dad’s front storm door. He watched the hawk carry the dead bird to the backyard, where it plucked and ate its prey.
Text message: an iPhone photo of gray feathers circling a bloody spot on the snow.
At the end of the month he was helping me with a seed-sock (mesh bag) experiment to see if we could feed finches millet, much less expensive than thistle seed.
His first report, by text, said a chickadee was on the bag minutes after it was hung. Then, what usually happens to millet in feeders happened: nothing.
The feeder windows are in the conversation end of his kitchen. Soccer Dad removed the screens from the windows to improve viewing, and turned the couch there to face the action.
He told me that one day in early January he was there from 8 a.m. until noon.
He’ll get another idea in a day or two. I’ll get a text message.
Read Jim Williams’ birding blog at startribune.com/wingnut.