Sunday, April 11, 2010

For The Birds

Day before yesterday, winter returned with a vengeance. And for about 48 hours the wind reeked and roared. Snow whipped about the windows and deck like heavy surf in an ocean storm. I heard trees snapping in the woods. Hub never ties down the barbecue cover and it is gone. With the madness of the storm I have no idea which neighbor to call to see if they sighted it – the one to the north, south, east or west.

Anyway after a delightfully mild spring, we are now well snowed in.

And so this morning when Hub looked out the window, he saw a frenzied mass of tiny birds battling over the bird feeder. Hub could readily see that there were too many for one feeder, so he scattered some extra seed on the ground.

Now you’ll have to forgive me cause I’m not a bird watcher in any serious sense of the word, so I don’t know what kind of birds they were, all I can tell you is that they were all tiny birds of the same genus and species.

But while watching them rally about the feeder and the scattered seed on the ground, I suddenly realized I wasn’t just seeing birds. Hub noticed it too. We were seeing little personalities. We were seeing in the mix birds of various constitutions –nasty birds, frantic birds, timid birds, and placid birds.

There were greedy birds that had eaten their fill. But despite that, they stood firm at the feeding station, flapping their wings, and threatening with their beaks, in a bid to make all the rest think they were elected as CEO’s of all feeding activity.

There were birds that darted around the food with such reluctance and fear. And there were other non-aggressive birds, but nevertheless sturdy enough in constitution to not be put off by some bully approaching them threateningly.

I noticed there were even birds dashing about in fright, and fluttering away in quite a panic. Yet to the rest of the flock they were invisible.

None cared they were even there cause with such skittishness, it was quite evident, even to me, that if they were to scavenge anything, it would only be the less tasty debris (or empty hulls) because they obviously felt undeserving of the large buttery sun flower seeds in the mix.

Those choice morsels they left for the authoritarian birds of the hierarchy. But still, despite their humility and mannerly patience, this same bunch ate with such a constancy of terror that they could barely manage to get any food down. The drama of it all put me in mind of another occasion many years ago.

It’s not often, but I occasionally tell people about the ‘happy chickens’ Hub’s mom had years ago. Chickens that ran to her, with long proud necks, bright eyes, making soft clucking conversation to her as they perched happily on the edge of the grain pail she carried out to the chicken yard. People blink at my story with the same blankness that you might see in the face of a ‘stupid’ chicken. But those chickens convinced me that chickens have more intelligence than they are ever given credit for.

But because my story usually is treated as a ‘gaffe’, a story lacking any true sensibility, I no longer tell it. And furthermore, I remind myself every time I think of hens housed in small tight cages, without soft nests, and with lights on night and day so they will lay without ceasing, that it is all of no matter. I am the stupid one to feel so foolishly sad.

And so then, because of others reactions, I begin to think I am such a fool. Chickens are nothing more than chickens. So what if they are mistreated. Their brains are too scant for them to know the difference. And if I worry about such stupidity, I am about as stupid as a ‘stupid chicken’.

But no, I am not stupid and they are not only chickens. Admittedly in recent years I almost had myself convinced they were only chickens and that the day I saw ‘happy chickens’ my imagination was simply working overtime. But no, I had to reconsider after watching that bird-feeding episode in the front yard today.

Those wee creatures, with their wee small brains, are not just warm-blooded guts-and-gizzards with feathers. They have feelings, hopes, manners, or lack thereof, and they are able to demonstrate appreciation and happiness.

I hope some day Animal Rights Groups will understand that if you can’t treat seals and whales like that for the sake of dinner that you also can’t treat chickens the way they are treated for the sake of breakfast.