Saturday, January 17, 2009

Getting fuzzy

With the snow, and light covering of ice on top of it, from earlier in the week, my practice of feeding the squirrels and birds has taken on a bit more of an air of urgency. Food for all on the outside of the glass is a bit harder to find in the shortened winter days of New England and both feather and fur go after their daily bread with a single-minded seriousness bordering on the joyless.

The birds, to include a couple of male and female cardinals, sparrows and tufted titmouses (titmice? I have enough trouble with the species; trying to nail the spelling is just borrowing trouble) are not as enthused about a feeder shelf filled with seed attached to my office window as I'd have assumed. I've kept the blinds down after a REALLY unnerving experience last week with a sparrow. I could hear something tapping away at the plastic feeder holding the seed and when I turned from my desk to look out the window, a sparrow who was standing in the feeder, slamming it with her (his?) beak, turned around to glare at me (yeah, I know that sounds crazy; but it's true) as if to demand 'what are you looking at, biped?' I've rationalised no one likes to be watched while eating. I think I may have seen three or more of the cardinals flashing gang signs.

The snow has just enough ice glaze to hold up the birds, without their breaking through, leaving an assortment of upside down "Y"s in all directions to mark their sojourns. The squirrels, weighing a bit more, tend to crunch as they munch and each of the five or so has set up on different places and limbs of one of two of the small pine trees that grow in the area about three yards from the office window (too far to successfully leap from a branch and land in the seed feeder. I know this is true because I've watched more than one Flying Zambini Brother (or sister) attempt it).

From these vantage points they can see into the office, and, sitting at my computer, I become aware of small eyes boring a hole into the back of my head. When I turn around, one or more of them actually stands up in her/his tree limb to make sure my eyes follow the movement (I think they've done a decent job of training me all in all) so we are both clear on the next step in the procedure.

If I throw out a handful of peanuts, they chase one another around making odd noises, seemingly attempting to bite one another and eventually the blue jays, knowing a good deal when they see it, touch down, grab a peanut and fly away before any of the squirrels can sort out what's happened. So, if I have the time, I flip the peanuts to them, one at a time, watching them as they watch the arc of the legume in flight as if pondering the notion of attempting to catch it in mid-air. There are instances, I suppose, where they could have caught them--I've brained them with a peanut but so intent are they in their pursuit, they shake it off, flip the peanut around a few times with their front paws before popping it, or most of it, in their mouths and running off.

They aren't always at the windows--they disappear for hours at a time. For all I know, they go someplace for coffee, perhaps a latte. But they always return and I feel the little eyes, turn around, and we begin again. A couple of weeks ago, someone a few windows down, on a pleasant afternoon, opened her window to let in some air and was stunned to have one of the squirrels standing on the sill, nose pressed to the screen, oblivious to her shouts of surprise and unease.

With all the snow, it's hard, I guess, for them to break habits. Instead of eating every peanut, they seem to save some for later (perhaps with a cup of cocoa in the evening?) and when there's no snow, I've watched them bury peanuts all over the front lawn of the building my office is in (I don't know if or how they remember where they are). But in the winter, they bury the peanuts in the snow which suggests in the animals-only edition of Mastermind, they won't make it to the prize round. Talk about four-legged fuzzy logic.
-bill kenny

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