John Sunderland

The curated works of the author & artist

Birds in the Hood

We recently visited friends who live in a log cabin on top of a tree-covered mountain in Southwest Vermont. There we watched in awe all kinds of beautiful birds visit their garden, including green humming birds that flashed about us like fairies on steroids.


“Gosh isn’t this wonderful?” my wife Kath said to me.


Then we came home to boring fugly Bushwick in Brooklyn where we live and looked out of our window. Nothing, apart from the ‘Pavlovian’ pigeons from across the street circling overhead.


“I know,” said my wife, still perky because of all the fresh Vermont air she’d been imbibing. “Let’s get a bird-feeder!”


So a few days later, full of good intentions for feathered Creation, we visited the hardware store on First Avenue in the East Village in Manhattan. This is the store that can be relied on to have ‘Everything in the World’ in stock.  If you went in for a jelly chainsaw they would have one. If you asked for a pogo-stick for an elephant, they’d nip in the back and select one from a variety of colors and finishes. So a bird feeder was no problem.


“What size birds?” asked the assistant.


“Little ones,” said Kath.


The feeder looks a bit like a lantern with an oriental shaped black plastic hat on top from which protrudes the cable loop you hang it with. Attached below is a clear plastic container with openings at the bottom through which the birds can get at the seeds. At the base there’s a little rail for them to perch on and exchange gossip.


We bought it for about twenty bucks. Then we paid ten more for gourmet birdseed which proclaimed on the label, ‘…guaranteed to attract all manner of exotic seed eating birds’.


“It will be wonderful, I can’t wait,” said my wife at home. She sat on the sofa directing me as I hung the thing on the washing line that spans the yard below from our second floor kitchen window. “Such a simple pleasure,” she said.


“Is that far enough out? Can you see it?” I shouted to her from the kitchen as I pulled the feeder out over the roof of the covered porch below.


“Bit further,” she shouted.


“How’s that?” I shouted back. It was hard work, as the washing line hadn’t been pulled since the Great Depression and it was stuck in the tree opposite. I swear a squirrel was hanging on to it out of spite.


“That’s it, a good view from here,” she shouted.


“Great,” I said closing the window.


“Just one thing.” With Kath there’s always just one thing.


“What?” I waited, knowing that I must have got something wrong.


“You didn’t put the bird seed in, birdbrain”


She was right, she always is. So I pulled the thing back in and poured in the mixed seeds ‘…guaranteed to attract all manner of exotic seed-eating birds’. Then repeating the above rigmarole I pulled on the rope until the lady on the sofa in the adjacent room trilled. “That’s it!”


I went into the sitting room where she sat clasping a large pair of binoculars to her face, pointed in the direction of the bird feeder all of fifteen feet away.


“I wonder how they get to know,” she asked, “ that we’ve put a feeder out there for them?”


“Twitter,” I said, “obviously.”


“Wonder what exotic breeds will turn up?” I said in anticipation feeling as excited as her.


“There’ll be red ones and green ones,” she said


“Yellow?” I asked. “We had a yellow canary once at home. And pink and blue.”


“And purple ones, you know passing through on migration,” she said knowledgeably.


“And now they’ll just have to swoop down to our backyard for a beaky seedy snack,” I said, nibbling the air like a big finch.


Then I thought, “It’s a bit garish isn’t it, all those bright colors. Couldn’t we have some nice pastel shades that would go with the ambience of the area and our interior décor, don’t you think?”


“Cardinals are nice and they’re bright red,” she said, adding, “Open the window will you darling?” We still hadn’t attracted anything yet. “I have an idea,” she said as she reached for the marvelous book we bought a couple of years before which has illustrations of all the birds of North America as well as a special audio device for playing their calls.


“Let’s see what happens if we play their songs,” she said. So I sat with the book on my lap close to the open window and started pushing the birdsong button.


“What was that one?” she asked after I’d played the first one at random.


“The Western Greeb,” I said. Then we watched and waited; no Greeb– nothing.


“What the hell was that?” she asked, after I’d played another.


“That was the cry of the Great Bald Eagle,” I said. We both sat and watched, Kath with the binoculars still stuck to her face. No Eagle cameth.


“We don’t want great big eagles on the washing line. Think of the poo.Why don’t you choose examples of ‘exotic seed eating birds’,” she chirruped again from her perch on the sofa. “It says on the packet, ‘guaranteed to come’.”


“Ok, this one’s a winner, watch out for . . . .” I played the call, ‘the Western Tanager’. We watched tensely; nothing. The feeder hung there motionless.


I played a few more; The Dark Eyed Junco, nothing. The Pine Grosbeak, not a feather. The Red Crossbill, Nada.


“Here’s a sure thing,” I said. “The Common Redpoll.” I played the call then in response I heard something. “Wow did you hear that?”


“That was a fire-truck,” she said from behind the binoculars.


“Oh,” I said. “Could have sworn it was a Common Redpoll. Are you sure?”


“It was a fire-truck,” she said, still watching.


A few more charged minutes passed, then miraculously from out of the city sky, they came!


First a single sparrow, then the brown-feathered mourning dove that perches on the telephone wires across the yard and does nothing. Then some more sparrows followed by three or four dirty street pigeons, then more sparrows. All the colour of dirt. In fact, in the next five minutes all the dingy, beige-browny birds of the Hood turned up. Little feathered piggies, all of them. It took them only about half an hour to completely empty the feeder. Then they buggered off without so much as a whistle in our direction.


“Not exactly what you’d call ‘exotic’, were they,” I said. “More sort of mucky brown and familiar. Where oh where,” I cried in frustration out the window, “was Omao also known as the Hawaiian Thrush!


Kath had red rings on her face where the binoculars had been stuck.


“Not even a Yellow-Rumped Warbler,” she said.


“Not even a Northern Parula,” I said.


“When are we going back up to Vermont?” I asked.


“Soon,” she said. “Very soon.”

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