Sunday, February 6, 2011

Winter -- Pleasures & Perils of Feeding the Outside 'Family'

After another large snowfall overnight one of our first tasks was to make sure our outdoor family had food.

The cats bowls were filled and fresh water offered. Being Sunday our chai tea was brewing (we’ll talk about rituals another time) while my caring husband, muffled up, was digging a pathway in our back garden to reach the hanging bird feeders and the ‘table’ we created for the birds, chipmunks and squirrels to feed at.

We feed them year round, but most needed in winter. Once you begin to put out food it is so important not to forget.

This winter I was very happy to welcome back one of the pheasants that visit periodically.  Several years ago we hosted a grouse for a few winters.
‘Gretchen’s’ feathers were so beautiful I never tired of gazing at ‘her’ as she feasted on the frozen berries still hanging on our cherry tree.  Shorn of its short-lived veil of blossom, it provided needed winter food.

The colourful chickadees, fashion-forward in their vogue-ish combination of black and white with a touch of yellow, dart down for just a seed or two then fly off. Mourning doves, whose three-note song is its own spring music, stay longer, clusters of them nibbling seed, bread, cheese and other goodies.  One or two clever ones have learnt to swing onto the small hanging feeders, scattering the seeds below to the rest of the flock.

Our current resident squirrel has also discovered the feeders and swings merrily, though he favours the roasted peanuts, triumphantly racing off with each one to a different hiding place. I wonder if he will ever find the ones he carefully buried earlier in the lawn, now covered with feet of snow.

City pigeons also know a good restaurant and occasionally visit. A few weeks ago one of these heavier birds gave us a shock. Upstairs at the back of our house is a large window. It’s been there for years but possibly this pigeon had never visited before. Suddenly we heard a loud thud as one, perhaps startled, flew straight at the window. Running outside we thankfully did not find an injured bird. A small evergreen directly below may have cushioned the fall. But a fuzzy heart-shaped image remains on the glass, a reminder that all life is precious.

The doves usually convene near dusk, the pheasant early in the day; the chickadees and squirrel have no set meal times.

As I gaze at the ever-watchful pheasant I marvel at its beauty, the colourful head and throat bands, the perfect symmetry of its feathers and long elegant tail. To me it is unthinkable that anyone could hunt these creatures of nature for food, for their plumage.

Every member of our outdoor family has its part to play in keeping the ecological balance. It’s up to us to ensure they survive through a hard winter to continue to bring us joy.

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