Sunday, February 20, 2011

Strictly For the Birds

February 1 and  2, 2011
Close to Home

If the race had never lived through a winter,
what would they think was coming?

HDT Journal, 1850

On the last day of January, I took a short walk along the river on the Betar Path. It was so cold that tears were streaming down my cheeks, though the air itself was still.
There's no way I could have been more bundled up, and still able to walk. We are usually experiencing a January thaw by now – where is it?

The little brooks that cross the path were still in the icy jaws of winter, as was the River, which has thawed and refrozen several times now.

It was the sort of day to walk briskly, just to avoid freezing in place. Stopping at a river overlook, I turned to face the sun, and became a windowsill cat, happy to feel the sun.

 The forecast for the next two days was for a large winter storm to come barreling up from the south.

With that in mind, I went a-walking on that cold – but sunny ! – day.

Not much company today on the path -- not even the usual dog-walkers. (and windowsill cats are smart enough to have trained humans to set up litter-boxes !)

Not a good day for a picnic, either.

So I strode along, swinging arms and legs, knowing I’d be hobbled indoors for the next day or two.


The first day of February began with dark clouds and freezing-rain.
“A louring sky,” Thoreau would have called it. The day was more dreary than bad, but this was just the precursor to the bigger storm.

The radio and tv had been blatting about it constantly, calling the coming storm a “potential snow-i-cane.” As if we had never seen a snowstorm before.

“Oh, all that hype is strictly for the birds,” my Mom would say.

(I had never thought twice about this frequent family expression, but here’s some interesting history on it.)

Speaking of the birds, we were concerned about them finding food on this sleety day and the days to follow.

Mom and I been putting out suet for the birds on our little apartment balcony, and leftover popcorn when we have it. We’re not supposed to have bird feeders, according to my lease, but we can’t resist hanging one little suet cage in the winter. The birds who visit us provide endless entertainment. We call it The Bird Channel.

Today we had nothing but odd leftover pieces of various loaves of bread – so I came up with an experiment, to while away the time indoors.

It was not especially scientific.
(hey, it’s been many moons since Biology 101)
(and I was a Fine Arts Major, anyway).
There were tons of variables (noted in retrospect) that were not accounted for.

But here’s what I did – I put out samples of three types of bread, cut into small squares:

Hannaford in-store bakery marble rye

Panera sourdough,

And Arnold country oat bread.

[Let it be hereby noted that I did not, nor shall ever receive, any payments or compensation of any kind for the perceived avian endorsements or pseudoscientific analysis to follow.]

There was a lull in the precipitation, and so I popped out onto the balcony, and set out the specimens.

Which sample would be consumed first?

The hardy juncos – true snowbirds – stood before these offerings for a while, deciding. Perhaps the pieces were too large for them.

Down swooped a bluejay, who had no problem loading up five pieces at a time and jetting back to the woods’ edge.

After only ten minutes, it was apparent that the Hannaford bread just wasn’t cuttin’ it with any of the birds.

Quite unscientifically, I changed the position of the samples, thinking that the position relative to the usual food source might be affecting the results.

Nope. Same trend continued.

The Panera was gone in about 20 minutes.
The Arnold came in second,
and the Hannaford bread was still there an hour and a half later,
when the snow began to come down in earnest
And some visiting sparrows decided they’d rather have the good ol’ suet.

Draw your own conclusions. Birds, after all, have different food preferences than we do.
But I know which bread I’ll be buying more regularly in the future…


  1. Heck of a way to choose your bread! :D

  2. Waterlily-Sue,
    I have read allof your posts and I can not say which one I enjoyed the most. I found you through Woodswalker-Jackie's blog.
    I live in Boston, and I have been one of those people who with the kids in the back seat trek to Walden pond on hot summer's days to get a cool splash, without knowing much more of it. Now after reading your posts I will return and look more closely.
    Keep up your wonderful blog work!

  3. Such picky sparrows! I have to say, my tastes are on par with the birds regarding those breads. Panera bread baguette is amazing, especially dipped in soup! I wonder what would happen if you did the same experiment with fruits.

    I laughed hard when reading the "for the birds" explanation. Horse droppings = road apples? LOL!

  4. thank you for visiting my blog -
    Asa, great to hear from you, perhaps we will meet at Walden some summer day... you might enjoy my all-time favorite posting from back in august of 2009, "Thoreau's Birthday" - it was truly a magical day!(

    ellen - yes I was just looking for confirmation more than anything ... besides, birds like worms, don't they ? and I'm not awfully fond of them -- as a meal that is...

    lindsey - yes Panera bread rocks - but then again, I am no scientist! I hope to see you at RaptorFest next weekend !

    To all - have patience, I have several posts coming up, due to recent unavoidable circumstances (electrical problems in my apartment !) have not been able to sit down and POST ! Keep watching though.

  5. Haha birds will also ingest broken eggshells too, methinks you wouldn't like those either.

    Haha aww you don't need to be a scientist to know that Panera is awesome. :) You will certainly see me at RaptorFest, I'll probably spend all of both days around there, I am SO psyched!