May 21, 2017


White-crowned sparrow on ceanothus in Paso Robles Watercolor, Gouache, Colored pencil on cold pressed illo board

Who do you feed?

One year, I unexpectedly fed about 50 white-crowned sparrows. Early in the winter of 2000 I trimmed branches from my fruit trees and placed them on my backyard deck. A few days later I was getting ready to take that huge pile of twigs as green waste to the dump. I noticed what seemed like a million little birds with white stripes on their heads hopping in and out of the branches. I was stunned with the sight and all the chirping and birdsong. So, I got out my Audubon bird book and identified them as white-crowned sparrows. And if you Google the birdsong of the white-crowned sparrow you can hear what they sound like. Pretty cool. Don’t know why I decided to feed them. Maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t sure how I was going to stuff all those branches in the back of my Mercury station wagon (as it had been raining). Maybe I was looking for a reason not to go the dump. But that wouldn’t have been the reason at all because I really loved (and love) going to the dump. I probably thought they needed me and just wanted to see what would happen. I put out little pie tins of birdseed and my son and I watched them all winter and spring. They ate a lot of seed and pooped a lot on my deck. I had to frequently empty the food dishes of water when it rained or the seed would get moldy and/or sprout. Yeah, it was a big mess out there! But I loved feeding and tending those birds and I happily contributed to the mess on my deck all winter/spring long. Then one May day, as quickly as they had come, they were gone. And my summer finches and mockingbirds were not interested in that funky pile of waste. So I scraped off the deck and found a guy with a truck to take the giant bird nest and me (of course) to the dump. I was kind of sad to see that pile that had been so lively go away!

Thinking about those long ago birds got me thinking about how important it is that we feed the people, or things, we care about. Of course we feed ourselves (hopefully with mostly healthy food and drink) and we feed our children. Then we teach our children to feed themselves (hopefully with mostly healthy foods) and we teach them to feed the birds. (I work as a speech and language pathologist at a couple schools in LA and every morning food from the district is wheeled into each and every classroom. The kids eat breakfast together each and every morning during the week.)

And so we continue to feed those we care about and feed the homeless guy hanging around a trashcan at a Starbuck’s a cup of coffee and slice of banana bread, or buy a man who is sitting outside a grocery story a tuna sandwich. Or maybe we plant an extra row of tomatoes, cucumbers or squash and take the surplus to a food bank to feed a hungry family. One way or another we all gotta eat, right? So why not share good food with the people and birds around us? Wasn’t there a scene in the old Mary Poppins movie where the little boy chooses to spend his tuppence for birdseed instead of putting it in the bank? That’s what I’m talking about, remembering to feed the people and birds around us. Sometimes all it takes is tuppence.

Oh, and Happy Birthday Dan!

Note about this art: When my son was young I wrote and illustrated stories for our local “Central Coast Parent” magazine. This art went with a story about taking care of winter birds by way of introducing children (and their parents) to the idea of becoming fledgling ornithologists. My son’s 22 now and I’m not sure he remembers any of this, but he seems to be very impressed with the hummingbirds that congregate (sometimes 5 or 6 swarming around) at the feeder I have on the balcony of my LA apartment. It is pretty impressive to watch them hover around the feeder of nectar with a lovely orange photochemical sunset in the background. No, really! Why doesn’t anyone like that color?

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