While the nor\’easter rages outside, I\’m watching the birds at the feeder under the eaves. Long past the time when they usually retire to their roosts, they\’re flying in for a few last bits of energy to get them through the night. Titmice, their little crests down from the cold; feisty chickadees; and winter-dull goldfinches swoop in, perch, grab a single sunflower or nyger seed and fly off into the trees to feast in peace. You\’d think that they would use way more energy in those flights than a single seed could supply, but the yard is not littered with bird corpses, so they must know what they\’re doing.
Slate-colored juncos–elegant little birds with deep-gray backs and wings, white bellies and yellow beaks–are ground feeders, gleaning what our obese squirrels have left of the seeds that drop from the seed containers. Just now, as the agile titmice dove at the feeders swaying in the gale, I saw a pathetic sight: a junco fluttered up from the ground towards the trove of sunflower fuel, fell short, fluttered down, then fluttered up again. What was he thinking? That is the last thing he should have been doing, wasting energy pursuing an impossible goal.
After watching five or six of these vain flutterings, I filled a plastic tub with sunflower seeds and flung them into the shrieking wind. \”Those seeds will be covered up in no time,\” said my husband. As it happened, the wind was blowing against the direction in which I had thrown the seeds, and they stuck fast to the surface of the snow. Soon four, five, six juncos appeared, feeding greedily. For a few minutes even a female cardinal came by, her feathers ruffling in the gusts. Cardinals are scarce in these latitudes, so even I, who used to get a dozen at a time at my Maryland feeder, have taken to gasping with wonder when I see one. I hoped she would stay, but she didn\’t.
It\’s almost dusk now, and although the titmice, etc. have gone home, the juncos are still out there, in the midst of the weather hoopla, pecking the ground like hens. But one little clever one, wing feathers tending to brown, beak a paler yellow–a female–is hanging out in the one-inch-wide strip of bare ground right against the house. Except that that ground is not really bare, but covered in sunflower husks and seeds fallen days and even weeks ago. She\’s filling up on these, feeding contentedly next to the wall, away from the males battling the storm. Bon appetit, junquette. I have high hopes for you. May you live to fledge a nestful of babies in the spring.