We had some unpleasant weather last winter: snow, followed by sleet and freezing rain. We escaped the very worst, only getting 1/4″ of ice rather than the inch just 20 miles away, but it had an unexpected effect. I made sure to put out lots of high-energy food the next morning and the birds were out in good number, but their behavior seemed odd. Sluggish and labored. Then I saw these birds.
Another Titmouse had a large tuft of down pulled out on its shoulder, while Juncos hopped beneath the feeders dragging their tails in the snow. One Blue Jay’s crest was so full of ice pellets it flopped forward and sideways. I didn’t recognise the Carolina Wren for a moment — her jaunty tail was hanging straight down with the weight of ice. Were they caught while foraging for food, or were they trapped in their roosts, feathers frozen to branches?
Then a thaw and a day of icefall, chandelier prisms tinkling everywhere. The birds seemed to regain their composure and appetite. All the regular customers were back.
I realized I hadn’t seen my Carolina Wren in two days, when she’d been a daily visitor almost all winter… Wait. My wren? How often I speak of my birds, my frogs, taking ownership of free creatures. Providing supplemental food, however thoughtfully purchased and prepared, doesn’t create a quid pro quo. They use the habitat we create, the plants we allow to overgrow in thickets, but they don’t need it specifically here in my yard. The chickadees and titmice certainly recognise me as a source of food (and nest material) (sometimes not even waiting for it to be offered).
They owe me nothing, of course. Whatever I do to make my yard hospitable is for my own benefit far more than theirs. The debt is all on my side for the joy their quick brilliant lives bring to me
I have an online friend who’s a falconer. He tells amazing stories about working with many different raptors and owls, the partnership between man and hawk and hound. The difference, he says, is the lack of the hierarchal pack relationship he shares with his dogs — his birds are, in effect, independent at-will workers, hunting for their own purpose, not under orders or out of love. You must never mistake the interaction for love: at best, it’s cooperation, at worst it’s ‘To hell with you,’, and the bird is gone.
I don’t know much about parrots — I suppose they might be different: intelligent, long-lived, and very social, perhaps they consider us pitiful flightless flock-mates.