A chipmunk's piñata

By Katharyn McLean | Sep 10, 2010

I had never fed birds before. I guess I felt I was already nourishing so many other creatures — my kids, my husband, our two dogs, two cats. And then there were always my plants; God, that is a subject all its own. But I had never fed birds until last winter when, while we were away at a trade show, mold took over our house and it rained inside for five days. It was a most special time.

After we returned home to The Flood, we packed up the house, threw out a gazillion things (not entirely bad) and moved out for the fall and winter. I dragged along in every way, even taking a few things to keep me company in our temporary home. Luckily, we were able to rent a house from friends on a nearby lake. But as the November gray took up residency, and the leaves fell swiftly from the trees, my spirits seemed to decline.

Until I noticed the cheerful and whimsical bird feeders at my friend Meg's house. I decided if I could bring some of that cheer to the small garden outside the front porch at our temporary winter home, it might lift my heart, as well. I visited our local pet supply store, purchased a simple feeder and perused the many blends of bird food; I really had not considered there would be so many to select from.

I chose the songbird blend in hopes that music would fill the air and raced back to set up my new arena of entertainment, on a mission to help feed the tiny souls who somehow managed to survive the Maine winter. Why didn't they all head south, I wondered? Much bigger birds with far more fat and feathers flew off knowing better. Perhaps this was God's charm, to keep a few around us as reminders that it was not our destiny to freeze. With characteristic impatience, I waited and waited for birds to come flocking, not realizing it takes time for them to discover a new source of food. For heaven's sake, I hadn't posted a gigantic sign in the sky! I would have to wait patiently.

At the kitchen window where I had a perfect view to the feeder, I watched and continued to wait until one little plump and compact chickadee arrived with a swift peck at the feeder, then flew away. I was crushed. Had I bought the wrong food? Would he tell his friends, warning them all away? I realized I had quite a lot of happiness wrapped up in this new adventure, took a deep breath, and continued to wait.

What happened next thrilled my soul. That little chickadee spread the word faster than I could have imagined. He not only came back himself but brought along his entire extended family! I watched as they took turns filling their bitty beaks, and in the watching I observed more than a few friendly squabbles for position. Their chirp was as sweet as their presence; I recognized it, but it held my attention much further with the addition of their eating antics at my feeder. I had far more yet to enjoy, though I didn't know it then.

Winter arrived and stole some of my courage, but the feeder continued to fuel my spirit whenever I fell under. New birds that ate upside down began to arrive. I found them to be the most amusing and exceedingly curious. Meg said they were nuthatches. The parade continued as blue-jays, cardinals, woodpeckers and finches joined my brigade of hope and song. I had never seen the Zorroed Cardinal before; he was exquisite in his masked beauty. The gray squirrels were a bit of a nuisance, but lacked courage; a few quick warning shouts banished them from my new precious kingdom.

And then, a most darling surprise: suddenly, there were chipmunks. I had not considered that other creatures beside birds might be in attendance, but with the chipmunks' arrival, I felt as if I'd entered a place apart, a world half-real and half-animated. My feeder became their piñata as they scurried about at lightning speed gobbling the spill of seeds. I noticed they were on such a mission and the spill didn't seem as though it would suffice under the tundra-like conditions so I began to leave small piles of sunflowers seeds on the porch for them. Their cheeks full to helium explosion were hilarious to watch. At first I observed all this from the window. Then, as they became accustomed to my presence I joined them on the porch, slowing gaining their trust to move ever closer.

These tiny striped furry friends brought immense cheer as they ate from my hand. This was our handshake. Over time they become more daring as, Cirque de Soleil-like, they shimmied up the feeder's pole, and landed happily on the base of the feeder, entirely delighted with their new access and with themselves.

I thought the birds might not return once the new trapeze artists had established their routine, but return they did, and, after some impatience and surprising team work, all was well. The birds allowed the furry intruders to visit the feeder, but flew at them madly if they were not cooperating and exceeded their allotted time.

Winter passed with flight, seed and song; my piñata was a good friend to us all.



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