Bottom Feeders

Photo by Susan Crossett

Images of the proverbial food chain naturally bring to mind little fish being gobbled up by medium-sized fish who in turn are destined to become dinner for the larger fish. So it is that a hawk startles when swooping in to grab a songbird at the feeder.

It occurs to me, as what seems like an unrelenting winter (already!) continues, that I witness another kind of food chain with each glance at the birds voraciously attacking the feeders which hang just beyond the window. None are hardly ever bereft of birds whether they be the quiet goldfinch, the chatty chickadee or the raucous jay, the latter (and the retriever) knowing if I hear their call I will respond at once with a handful of peanuts for the birds and a few extras for the dog.

Yet it is obvious that not all, if even most, of the activity takes place at the feeders. For each bird pecking there, three times as many crowd beneath. It’s a cycle with obvious benefits.

Even the best of the sunflower kernels isn’t a feast to every hungry bird for the deck tends to be covered with the discarded shells. And yet these birds must be messy eaters for others crowd to fight for the leftovers, obviously finding enough to keep them fit.

The jay returns to peck at the suet cakes, hung out for the benefit of the tamer woodpeckers, dainty downies and the awesome hairys alike. The tree sparrow, sporting his chestnut cap and bull’s-eye vest, seems perfectly contented with what falls beneath. A chickadee may hang from the suet feeder. The sparrow and his ilk feast on those leftovers.

In fact, at this moment all the feeders are empty. Only one chickadee hurries in and out. But the snow-covered ground underneath has been packed hard with the birds meeting there: two — no, by gum, three — male cardinals, sparrows, juncos and one adventurous jay perkily hopping in to see what’s up.

Nor are the birds the only ones to benefit. A large feeder also hangs on the window, catering to house finches at this moment.

Beneath, however, I know those chipmunks wait. Where they live or why they have plowed through this snow is a mystery. Their visits are so constant and predictable Minor feels they have actually burrowed into the cement circle that’s been placed beneath the feeder as a convenient step up.

He sits at the window — inside now where he’s warm — head down waiting and watching and never seems disappointed for those varmints always come.

Funniest is catching the retriever and cat in identical poses, keen eyes on the hungry chipmunk. Or not so hungry. But a prime attraction at any season.

While this lovely scene is repeated on most days, now I realize I have attracted so many other birds that my “pets” have been scared away. Is it wrong to play favorites? Yes, admittedly I prefer those littler birds.

Today, however, they have been chased off by those noisy nuisances. Flocks of grackles, redwings and undoubtedly some starling cousins have moved in. What snow was left untouched has already been trampled down as the birds push each other trying to get every last ort. Too many. Too large. Too noisy. Where’s the fun in feeding such a group?

And yet … and yet. Of course I do not chase them off. I suppose I could but why bother? They may not seem as attractive to my eye (or ear) but they too are birds. They come here in need.

Certainly there is plenty of food for all . It’s all in where one looks.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her “Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at