Watching one contingent ruin the whole scene for everyone else starts out being amusing but eventually turns into disgust. If we were in the post-apocalyptic world of The Book of Eli or The Road, you'd be forced at one point or another to say something like, "Hey, can we try to remember our manners here, folks?" The road zombies would just wind up eating you and your family anyway, but you would have made the effort. And that's what counts.
Perhaps to the birds to whom every spring is the beginning of what might be the last year of their short lives (their personal apocalypse), offering them free snacks is just asking for trouble. How could something so harmless come to such a bad end? As Lyndon Johnson must have said, yelling at Hubert Humphrey from the toilet where the Commander in Chief had just dropped a quarter pounder, with cheese, "Goddammit, Humpy, we're gonna get these Nigras outta poverty if it costs us every dime this gummit has got! Who else they gonna vote for after we do that?" All the time having little or any foreknowledge of what effect paying women more money to have more babies and taking it away if they were to make the mistake of getting married would have on an entire culture.
In the grand controller spirit of LBJ, I set forth with the social experiment called the "bird feeder." The first challenge was to make it species-specific. Because we all know about the squirrels. The fucking squirrels. Anytime there's a free food program, you can count on the fucking squirrels showing up and snarling their way to the front of the drive-thru. I managed to flummox the rats with cute tails by my strategery of placementations, as my hero W would say. Just off of the deck, we have a couple of huge pine trees. I used a tree-trimmer with an extension to cut a limb down to around 3 feet and then (ingeniously, if I do say so myself) used the same extension to loop a chain around the severed limb. (Wow. "Severed limb" sounds painful when you write it down. Try it.) Then I had to find a feeder that would torment the fucking squirrels even if they DID manage to jump on to it. Which we all know they would do, eventually. I went with this model. I used an S-hook to attach it to the chain instead of putting it on a pole, as in the picture I just showed you. (Assuming that the picture is still available. All life is ephemeral, as are images on the web.) All of this had to be done on a step stool from a very high deck. More than once, I imagined that this little project would wind up costing me my life as I tumbled arse over tea kettle trying to fumble with my new contraption. You might find it amusing that what came in handy was one of those "grabbers" that old men and young women use to get stuff off of shelves. I am not a young woman.
Then came the buying of the bird seed. Did you know that you can pay a fortune for bird seed at some pet stores? Or, you can go to Kroger and buy a ten-pound bag of the same stuff for $6 American? My suspicion that the thing was going to kill me became even more pronounced when I was on my stepstool using my grabber to get purchase on the feeder and found myself using one hand to open up the top while holding several pounds of bird seed in my other. It soon became obvious that I'd have to use a plastic pitcher to dole out a bit at a time and make more than one trip.
Once I had everything in place to cure the starving bird problem in my area, I relaxed to enjoy their happy faces as they beamed in gracious acceptance of my largesse. Things went quite well at first. The cardinals showed up and exhibited the behavior I'd expect from such elegant-looking creatures. The male is bright red and the female is a darker, less ostentatious red, but they seemed to show up as a couple, having their three meals a day with each other. Sometimes they would even come down to the deck railing together and I swear they were kissing. More probably, they were sharing some bit of food, but the gesture was one of pure love and you could feel it even through the double pane of glass in the French doors. The doves would came in pairs, too. They didn't feed from the feeder itself but would pick up the feed that had fallen to the deck or to the ground. Seeing that both of these creatures were mating for at least the season if not for life was quite affirming. The smaller birds would show up, too. I don't know all of their names, but I imagine they were mostly wrens or sparrows or maybe even something more exotic. Then a couple of woodpeckers started showing up. That's when I noticed the beginning of the end. I mean, tell me if I'm wrong, but aren't woodpeckers supposed to hammering at a tree for grubs or ruining someone's wooden siding? What the hell were they doing at my birdfeeder? And talk about eating like pigs. They would just throw the bird seed out like they were searching for the magic ball at the bottom of the pit at some cheesy Chuck E. Cheese's. Those huge bills would just be sweeping back and forth, costing me approximately $.14 per visit. (I had my CPA come over and calculate these figures. He did not do this for free.)
That was hardly the embodiment of pure evil I was about to witness. The blue jays got wind of my little giveaway. I don't want to disparage any of my Hispanic readers, but if the blue jays are not the Mara Salvatrucha of the avian world, I'll eat my sombrero. At first there was just a couple of blue jays showing up. I noticed that their consumption habits looked suspiciously like that of the woodpeckers, which I could have lived with if it had just been a couple of them showing up. ¡Ay, caramba! 'Twas not to be the case, mi amigo! Soon the renegades' Twitter account was activated and I could literally not count the number of blue jays storming my poor defenseless feeder. It was the Barbarians at the Gate, literally.
My enjoyment of "bird watching" faded as more and more of the blue devils (the name of Duke's lacrosse team; coincidence?) invaded my effort to feed the smaller and more polite creatures of the wing. Did you know that blue jays will kill the young of other birds in order to claim territory? Or maybe just to feed their voracious appetites. I swear, I could look out at the feeder any time of day and there would be half a dozen of them terrorizing other birds to claim all of the booty for themselves. I called my CPA back. He now assessed my loss at $.19 per group visit. This was my stop-loss point. I was not going to spend more feeding this cartel than I was feeding my dog. I searched the web for remedies. Guess what I found? The most common advice was to "kill them."
This is the bad part. You should quit reading now if you're squeamish about capital punishment.
Let me just say, in my own defense, that I was trying to speak up for those with no voice. The cardinals and the doves (oh wait, the doves were loving this shit; bird seed all over the fucking place on a regular basis; never mind) and the smaller birds whom I have not dignified by actually learning their names. But, by God, I cared about them! I, like LBJ, was not going to let anything stand in my way of making life better for the little people!
So I read this thread in a chat group about bird feeders in which several folks said that if you have this problem, all you have to do is shoot one blue jay and the others will get the message. So I did. Just a small twinge of guilt briefly passed through my body as I saw that young bird fall from the deck, felled by the mighty pellet of doom from my air gun. I sulked into the house and thought, "I'm glad that's over." I had shot a bird with an air gun once before when I was very, very young. I could not have been more than 8 years old, but I had been given a Daisy BB gun. I was in the yard at my grandmother's house. It was a beautiful spring day and I noticed a bird's nest high up in the mulberry tree. I pointed the BB gun at the nest and fired a shot. A featherless baby bird fell out of the nest to the ground. I fell to my knees with the weight of what I'd just done. I picked it up and took it out into the cotton field. I never told anyone about what I'd done, but it didn't leave me. Ever.
So how could I shoot a bird now, so many years later? With very little guilt? This is the real mystery. Perhaps life makes one colder. Perhaps killing the fucking squirrels makes one less caring. Perhaps $.19 per visit of any one group of a voracious gang just gets on your tits until you can't be arsed to care about one goddamn bird.
Anyway, I'm sure you're wondering, "So how did it work out for you, then?" That's the sad part, really. The next day there were more blue jays out there than ever. I killed two more. Yeah, that's right. It was them or me at that point. There was one big crested jay who watched it all from a distance. I noticed him because he was doing a lot of talking. I figured he was El Jefe and I started waiting to kill him in a very aggressive way. I was stalking him like a crazed Beatle fan. But he, the cunning bastard, would immediately fly to a safe distance anytime I came out on the deck, sending his underlings in to take the fire, just like the feathered coward he was. As soon as I would open the door, I would hear him snarking in that loud, obnoxious squeal that I was there. Oh, how I grew to hate the Leader of the Pack.
My human brain invented a plan. I have a kitchen that overlooks the deck, so I took the screen out of one window and laid in wait for El Jefe to get close. I was crouching forward in a kitchen chair in my underwear with one sock on and a three-day beard, my pellet gun in one hand and a pair of binoculars in the other. Huge flies and mosquitoes and who knows what all else were flying in through the open window. I didn't even see them. I was focused. This was when my wife walked in and said, "What exactly are you doing? You look like a madman."
The reality of what was going on sunk in at that point. I realized how it all looked, and it looked exactly like what it was. An OCD idiot who had turned into a liberal Democrat determined to help the poor birds by killing them: Obsessed with helping the birds by leaving their carcasses on the ground with a .177 pellet in their chests.
I imagined that this would be another defining moment in our ongoing dance toward some sort of relationship equilibrium. But she kindly just said, "Maybe this bird feeder is causing you more grief than happiness."
So I took it down this morning. Maybe I'll try again in this winter. But I hope you have someone in your life who can gently stop you when you're being a fool. If only Lady Bird had been more effectual.