Both my Great-Aunt Maude and my mom fed birds. They might have exchanged bird-feeding tips. Both used the same brand of food — stale baked goods.
Crumbs were spread on crude wooden platforms mostly ignored by all birds except house sparrows, grateful little brown cheepers.
This was long before bird feeding became the hobby or pastime or obsession it currently is. What my mother and aunt did was simply Something Nice for the Birds.
Bird-feeding, like technical gadgetry, has advanced far beyond that, beyond the point of need.
Understand, please, as I sit on our deck poking this out on my iPad — out here so I can commune with the birds — I can see seven bird feeders in our yard or on the deck with me.
The sunflower-seed dispenser in front of me is empty. That means a trip to the garage where the seed is stored in hopes of keeping meal worm moths from infiltrating the house. Been there, done that.
The jelly put out for the orioles — they seem to have moved on — is its usual runny mess. It does as well with hot weather as I do. The orange half colorfully impaled on a nail beside the purple jelly juice has dried to leather. Another sun issue.
If we put these items in the shade we wouldn’t be able to see them. And then, what’s the point?
Our hummingbird feeder is a gorgeous red glass object I found at the Tractor Store (western rural Home Depot) in Wickenburg, Ariz. We were visiting in January. Sunshine to which I was maladjusted weakened my usual don’t-buy-anything!!! resolve.
I suspect this feeder’s red shout-out can be seen from passing airplanes. Hummers must not often fly that high.
Our four sunflower-seed feeders are plastic tubes shielded from pilfering mammals by a weight-balanced metal cage. If you perch there, weighing more than a stale cookie, the cage slides down to block the feeder ports. Clever.
We have one of these on our deck. Squirrels have gnawed at some of the plastic parts in an expression of revenge or frustration. There is now an occasional functional glitch.
Raccoons, bigger and stronger and perhaps smarter than their rodent neighbors, quickly learned to grasp the feeder post in their paws and shake like hell until the seeds rain down.
So each night I bring the feeder inside. Pain in the whatever.
I buy sunflower seed in 50-pound bags at a traditional feed store. The bags are heavy, at least for me, hard to dump into the garbage cans used for storage.
Stores catering to people who feed birds sell seed in quantities even my wife easily could lift. Store owners understand their core customers. We are largely People of a Certain Age.
At the feed store, though, I have saved as much as $6. The pain in my back is temporary.
Another way to define bird-store customers is to take a long look at the other things sold there. My aunt and mom would have loved it — many pretty things to admire when there are no birds around.
I am a bird-store customer. We have shepherd hook stands from which feeders hang (those the raccoons love) and the feeders, and some window decals to help clue birds about the reflections in the glass. I buy meal worms at the store.
Like so many of us, we want birds around. We work at it. We enjoy it. We’ll even pay for it, if necessary.
Read Jim Williams’ birding blog at startribune.com/wingnut.