Savouring a flat white and a muffin in the coffee-shop court-yard, I turned my head to watch some children peering into the goldfish pond. When I turned back to my coffee a ring of sparrows had silently hopped onto the table and up to the muffin. The clever things knew that when I turned my head, I couldn’t see them.
I used to feed the little rascals at home. All nine or ten of them. Not actually at home. Under a tree outside the garden where I could watch them from the sitting room window. That way less danger from the cat (now deceased)
I also fed the dozen or so minahs, a little way down from the tree so they wouldn’t frighten off the smaller birds. Moist bread for the minahs, wheat and birdseed, and when I ran out, porridge flakes for the others. They loved it all. They told their friends. Within a couple of weeks I had at least a hundred sparrows, four or five doves, some itinerant blackbirds, the odd chaffinch and an occasional thrush.
They had also worked out where this largesse came from. They waited in the plum tree outside the kitchen window and watched me until I came out with their breakfast. And for a couple of hours they sat and barracked me from the plum tree and the garage roof in the afternoon, until I sallied forth with afternoon tea – theirs.
A great whoosh of wings accompanied me to the tree. Then I had to make sure that the neighbour’s ancient lonely dog was not hovering in hope of a dog biscuit. If she was, I had to return with the bird food, and dig out a biscuit and walk her down the road with it, away from the bird food which she would have gobbled up. Dog distracted, back to the birds.
If I was out, they would be waiting for me at the bottom of the road. They recognised my white car, and swooped from telegraph pole to telegraph pole all the way down the street with the car. They’d then hover round the garage yelling “she’s back, she’s back” till I came out. If I went for a walk, they’d fly down the road with me, and wait on the corner.
Finally the worm turned. There were so many birds I couldn’t keep up with them, and was buying a large sack of wheat from the farmers shop each week, as well as extra bread for the greedy minahs – money I could ill-afford. The garden was becoming white with droppings, and I was back to the chaos of when I’d had a bird table. The sparrows could probably have made a pot of tea themselves, they’d watched me so intently through the kitchen window for so long.
A short holiday in Melbourne solved the problem. They gave up waiting. I felt guilty but relieved. They didn’t need the food out here in the country. It was just my hobby which had got out of hand.
But I now have a hearty respect for the intelligence of bird brains.
Feeling a cold coming on, I shall treat myself to a comforting pick-me-up – a tot of Stone’s ginger wine, the juice of an orange, a spoonful of honey and some hot water. It goes straight to the cockles of the heart, and also warms up the chest, and helps a cough.