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The Bird Feeder’s Lament

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

We took down the bird feeders the other day, and now I’m in withdrawal. Gone are my gray winter friends, the titmice, nuthatches, and chickadees that used to fly to the feeder, pluck out a single seed, and fly back to their perch. (I always wondered how a single sunflower seed, with its less than a fraction of a calorie, could make all that flying worth it.) Gone too are the assertive woodpeckers that would hammer away at the suet as if their life depended on it, which perhaps it did. Now, except for the squirrels, the occasional chipmunk, and the perennial plague of ticks, our yard is a wildlife desert.

The State of Vermont used to advise people to take down their bird feeders in April, when temperatures began to rise and bears would come out of hibernation hungry for a meal. But now, because of you-know-what, the feeder removal date has been pushed back to March. I must confess that in the past I would ignore the April rule and feed the birds year-round. I would take an illicit pleasure in the spectacular summer arrivals—the grosbeaks and orioles and indigos—and watching the family dramas as the finches and sparrows introduced their children to my avian restaurant.

But there is a beehive across the street from me, and last year a bear had its way with it, and that is another reason for me to remove the feeders. I am less enamored of beekeeping now that I’ve learned that domestic bees aren’t endangered after all. It turns out that so many people are keeping bees that in many localities there isn’t enough forage for them, and they compete with native wild bees for scarce resources. Still, trying to be a good neighbor and a good Vermonter, I comply with the bird feeding rules.

In my heart, however, I grouse. I grouse because not only do I want birds swooping gloriously in and out of my yard year-round, but also because I dearly want to see a bear. Call me irresponsible, but it would do my heart good to be, for once, in the presence of a wild bear.

“We need the tonic of wildness,” Thoreau said, and there is precious little wildness left around us these days. “Wouldn’t you be scared if you ran into a bear?” a friend says. First, this not being the land of grizzlies, there are no reports in recent memory of anyone around here being killed by a black bear. And second, sure, I’d be a little scared, but in a good way.

How often in our 21st century lives are we frightened by something in nature? We have conquered and tamed the world. The only way to see wildlife in Africa anymore is by sitting in an SUV in a crowded parking lot—no danger of being jumped on by a lion, or run over by galloping wildebeest. Except for villagers living near the man-eating tigers of the Sundarbans, few people on the planet are ever in real danger from wildlife. The only truly scary things about nature—fires, floods, and rising temperatures and sea levels—are the result of human interference.

So yes, at the risk of horrifying many, I repeat: it would cheer my soul to cross the path of a bear, smell its reek, hear its snuffle, and feel an atavistic rise of adrenaline in my system. However, where wildlife is concerned, I’m not picky. For lack of a bear, a nice red fox would do—or a bobcat, a lynx or, best of all, the holy grail of Vermont wildlife watchers, a catamount, the Green Mountains version of the mountain lion.

There is no guarantee, of course, of my seeing anything other than the occasional tick on my leg. This is what makes wildlife sightings so exciting: rarity makes almost anything precious. At the rate things are going, any day now I’ll be calling to my spouse, “Hurry! Come look! There’s a sparrow in the yard!”



6 Responses

  1. I had to read three times to figure out WHY you were advised to remove your inoffensive bird feeder – BECAUSE of the bears coming out of hibernation, and finding it a source of food, thus endangering YOU.

    That’s how far I am from understanding wildlife.

    I had a hummingbird feeder in suburban New Jersey before moving to California – here I don’t even have that, but just a few Kalanchoe plants which are stubbornly refusing to flower, but keep looking more each day as if they would (it’s been WEEKS), and some Purple aloes, on my balcony.

    A lot of the ignorance comes from being chronically ill, and not getting out on those hiking and camping trips with family I had so looked forward to taking in the States. I love wildlife – but haven’t had the energy to make it a priority in 34 years; probably won’t happen now.

    We did have a red fox visiting periodically in NJ, and an occasional deer, but that’s it. Didn’t see much beyond a few buffalo, a few cows, and a lot of ground squirrels on our trip to the Grand Canyon. But did spend a fair amount of time at a local State Park at their wildlife for children programs, so the effort was made, but my energy so often went to just getting the kids THERE.

    Enjoy yours – just don’t get mauled. It’ll cost the bear its life, too – bears that attack humans aren’t allowed to survive.

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