For The Birds

August 5, 2021
Tom Poland

By Tom Poland


This makes the second time I’ve used “For The Birds” as a title. “Contacting the dead through a Ouija board? That’s for the birds.”

No flippancy here. “For the birds” implies just what I mean. I suspect many of you, like me, do things for the birds. I’m zeroing in on bird feeders and not just feeders as you’ll see.

Among my morning rituals are making coffee and checking the status of my bird feeders. As the feeder empties, guilt rises. I can’t let birds go without their Choice blend of Wild Bird Unlimited seeds. To get home from a trip and see an empty feeder is a minor disaster. Same goes for my hummingbird feeders, which squirrels delight in tipping over and drinking. I’d put moonshine in them if the hummers would stay away. I’d love to see a squirrel staggering around, playing chicken with a car. If nothing else, the hangover might teach the tree rats a lesson.

I inherited my bird-feeding ways from my mom. She was all about birds and kept her feeders full. You’d hear birds singing outside her window and inside her home. She didn’t have an aviary but she had not one but two “singing bird clocks,” which tormented me twice a year with infernal daylight savings’ coming and going. Nothing galled her more than hearing the Carolina wren screech like a blue jay or a cardinal chittering like a chickadee. Twice a year Old Sol’s journey made time fly like Mom’s birds and I’d mark the calendar knowing a trip to Georgia was imminent.

Resetting her clocks was no simple task. I’d take the old batteries out, whirl the hands around a few times then set the clock to 11:50. Next I’d put fresh batteries in and set the clock to the correct time. Now came the waiting. I had to wait and depending on the time, I’d pray that the mockingbird sang, well, like a mockingbird. If it didn’t I had to repeat the requisite steps. This ritual went on for many years but for six years now those clocks have been put away. That’s how long Mom’s been gone but I recall the ritual as if it were yesterday.

It’s a warm spring day, 4:50 p.m. Outside the window birds flock to mom’s copper shelter of a feeder. Her red hummingbird feeder, hanging just outside the den window, buzzes and squeaks with six or so of those multicolored, feathery darts from South America.

Inside tension fills the air. Mom is sitting with me waiting for the tufted titmouse to whistle like some fellow calling in his dog. Five till five …. Three to five …. One minute to go. Studying my watch’s second hand, I count down like some NASA mission controller narrating a rocket launch to the moon. Three, two, one. I hear a click and praise the Lord the tufted titmouse whistles its sharp distinctive call. Success!

My days of resetting bird clocks are over, but one more time sure would be nice. Meanwhile my feeder is getting dangerously low. It’ll soon be time to buy more seed.

And the first time I used “For The Birds” as a title? In State of the Heart, Aida Rogers’s book. The subtitle explained that the book was sharing South Carolina writers’ favorite places. I wrote about Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and nesting shorebirds where “its feathery alchemy transforms sand scrapes into the seashore’s grand aviary.”

Mom fed birds once upon a time and her home sounded like some lesser aviary thanks to her time-keeping bird-singing clocks. Now one is mine. Mothballed, but maybe just maybe I’ll give it to someone who likes to do things for the birds.


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