At First, It Was Only a Couple of Sunflower Seeds

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Ever since a horrific coyote assault last year, we keep our surviving cats indoors. As a side-effect, the animal kingdom has expanded its territory. The mice, the voles, the chipmunks, the squirrels, the bunnies, the birdies, and the snakes — all the species once fiercely targeted by our felines — have returned to the premises. They now hop, skitter, twitter, frolic, and slither about the property. They peck, graze, scrounge, and otherwise feed off the land as if God intended it this way. Which I guess he did, at least until he created cats.

We have a fine-looking bird feeder in the backyard, a shingle-roofed little house with see-through walls, hanging from a shepherd’s-crook pole. Back in the days when we still had a backyard Cat Patrol, I felt a little guilty about putting birdseed in the little house. It was like luring our innocent, fine-feathered friends into the Carnival of Death: “Step right up, take your chance, peck the sunflower seed and win a prize!”

Now, however, we can fill the feeder guiltlessly. Our backyard is idyllic, a safe haven for rodents, reptiles, robin red-breasts and their ilk. Our cats sit trapped on the screen porch restlessly observing the wildlife. It’s Torture TV. They meow and lick their lips, tails twitching with primal longing, till they eventually trudge inside the house, throwing me a spiteful glance on the way to their food bowl, where they crabbily crunch their dry, brown Meow Mix.

I felt good about the full feeder until it became a major budget item. I was soon spending more money on birdseed than gasoline. We could fill the little house to the brim on Monday, and by Tuesday it was empty. This didn’t seem possible. There aren’t enough birds in our backyard to eat that much seed in a week. If the birds were actually consuming that much birdseed, they would be too fat to fly. We should see a literal “round robin” waddling across the grass. We should have house wrens the size of actual houses. But no. All the birds seemed normal-sized.

Squirrels, maybe? Squirrels love birdseed. But we have a big metal cuff, shaped like an upside-down funnel, underneath the bird feeder, designed to deter squirrels; and as far as I can tell, it works. We have plenty of squirrels, but they have no engineering sense. None seem to have figured out how to prop up a ladder, or shoot a guywire from the nearby maple tree, or stack pairs of fallen branches in a criss-cross pattern, or otherwise employ the laws of physics to get to the coveted delicacies.

So where was all the darn birdseed going?

Yesterday I was sitting on my screen porch, tapping my laptop keys, when the mystery was solved. I looked up to see a doe standing at the bird feeder with her tongue sticking out. Not at me — it was extended into the bird feeder’s little bird-sized door. Her head was cocked awkwardly to one side in order to get absolutely as much of her tongue as possible into the little house. She was slurping birdseed into her mouth as fast as she could.

I slapped my laptop shut, set it aside, and stood up, knowing that the sudden activity would send the startled animal scampering away. I was wrong. The doe stopped slurping for a moment, eyeing me wearily, then went back to her task.

“Hey! Cut it out!” I barked at her.

She kept an eye on me, but didn’t break stride — er, uh, slurp.

I advanced toward the porch door, attempting to appear menacing. Appearing menacing is apparently not my forté. The deer kept at it.

“What the heck!” I exclaimed, stepping outside. I knew she’d run now. I walked up to her. She only slurped faster.

“Get away from my bird feeder!” I yelled, waving my arms.

Finally she pulled her tongue back into her head and straightened up.

“I can quit whenever I want,” she said evenly. Then she stuck her tongue back out and started in again.

I burned with shame. I never realized that birdseed is deer crack. I was providing the drug — pound after pound of it, day after day — to the addict.

“You have to stop,” I said.

“I’m not hurting anyone,” she replied between gulps.

“I can’t afford it,” I answered.

“I knew you’d turn on me,” she sneered. “You did this to me. Now you loathe me.”

“It was an accident! I didn’t know!”

“Is that my problem?” she shrieked.

“You don’t need more birdseed!” I cried. “You need help!”

The doe took another slurp. “I’ll get help later. Just not right now.”

I placed a hand gently on her shoulder. “Listen to yourself,” I pleaded.

The doe paused. She backed her nose away from the birdfeeder and peered inside, frowning. It was empty.

She swung her face toward me, and blinked her enormous eyes.

“Got any more?” she asked.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook, a primitive and delicate ecosystem where the slightest misstep can spell disaster for the wildlife. Follow Doug by clicking “Follow.”

 

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