RSCN4008Take a look at this lady feeding Brooklyn pigeons on Christmas morning a couple of years ago.

She has something in her bag for the cat you see on her left too. She will drop it on the other side of the fence for the cat shortly.

I too feed birds in winter. Not just wild birds that come to the feeding stations in my yard, but street birds – mostly sparrows, pigeons and starlings. For decades now, wherever I go, I carry brown rice for the sparrows and pigeons, and sometimes a little bread for starlings.

I especially watch for birds crouched in doorways, or huddled and frayed beside a waste bin or street pole, birds for whom death is often approaching. I toss them a little rice, then stand guard to make sure healthy birds don’t come down to take it from them. Despite their condition, they usually eat it eagerly. It’s not likely to save them, but I see no harm in providing a little comfort in their last days.

Many people see bird feeding as pointless. Many others see it as pernicious, since it increases the bird droppings on our sidewalks, ruining the cleanliness society tries so hard to maintain.

But bird feeding people are people who still have a connection with Nature, which, to me, means a connection with reality.

Bird feeders aren’t the only ones who know how to connect with nature though.

Hunters, who get attacked from so many directions, are very connected to Nature. I come from a hunting and fishing family, and I’ve known many serious hunters. Their love for hunting always includes a love not just for the animals they hunt, but for the places too.

The people who deliver feed for deer in the depths of severe winters, or who help to restore wetlands and streams, are mostly hunters and fishermen. To see what they do as self-serving is to refuse to see who they really are.

People picking flowers are connecting too. Why do we teach children not to pick wild flowers? When I was a boy in school, they used to teach us which flowers we could pick and which not to pick. Why isn’t that done now? When did we become so simple-minded that we have to ban them all?

There is no harm in picking daisies, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, red clover, asters, buttercups, purple loosestrife, cow vetch, birdsfoot, pussy willows, and the pale beautiful blue chicory flowers that grow along roadsides.

Picking flowers for bouquets served children as the first connection with Nature for thousands of years. Yet today they’re asked to only be spectators of Nature, not participants.

There are other arguments for feeding birds. One I sometimes use is this – our cities are artificially constructed deserts, concrete and asphalt wastelands of the worst kind. Dropping a little rice or bread on a sidewalk, we help the birds to produce droppings that find their way into cracks and crevices to fertilize seeds that fall in there too and sprout, producing plants that somehow survive, contributing their little part to fighting global-warming.

These unsung city birds and weed plants do that while, from what I’ve seen, the anti-bird feeding people usually do nothing to help.

But for those of you who feed birds, let me warn you that it’s pointless to argue with these detractors. Their minds are usually so closed and narrow that they’re incapable of seeing that you’re doing anything good.

The next time you’re confronted by one of them, I recommend that you respond with my method, one that I learned from a big easy-going biker I worked with in a mine in northern Ontario years ago. Back from riding with the Hells Angels in California, he was minding his own business a thousand feet beneath the Earth’s surface while he refinanced himself for more travel. When someone berated him for his unorthodox way of doing things or thinking about the world, instead of arguing with them, he would just look them calmly in the eye and say:

“What’s it to you?”

That’s all you need to say as far as I’m concerned.



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