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It has finally snowed and I can feed the birds. The bird balls (seeds and suet packed into a net) and the bulk bag of bird food were purchased a month ago. The feeding houses have been hung from the apricot and the cherry trees. The old Christmas tree has been placed on the strawberry boxes. Let the banquet begin!
It has been too warm so far this winter to feed the birds. If the ground is not snow-covered or frozen you should let the birds fend for themselves. If you spoil them they become too fat to fly. As a member of the Swiss Ornithological Institute in Sempach (I buy their calendar every year) I know this to be a true scientific fact.
So, I put on my boots, found the bird balls on the kitchen windowsill, and trudged into the garden to begin the hanging of the balls. They had been waiting. No sooner had I started, than they rose up in a great twittering chorus. I don’t know if they all spoke the same language, but I clearly distinguished robin, chaffinch, sparrow, and goldfinch. On the ground the resident blackbird couple was silently, sulkily, looking for worms in the snow.
St Francis preaching to the birds, Giotto, 1297
They flew in from all directions. My bird-balls had gone viral; they got millions of hits. Even the woodpecker on the walnut tree stopped bashing his head against the bark to see what was up.
Now, I’m not particularly sentimental about birds. I like to see them out and about: turquoise kingfishers flitting over the Rhone River and cormorants drying their wings in the weak winter sun; jays squawking from the trees; and I’ll even tolerate a redstart building her nest in the tool shed. But on a snowy morning to be greeted by a whole inter-racial bird crowd and thanked for a bird-ball feast I found to be most moving.
I now understand Saint Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds and Dr Doolittle talking to the animals. They must have had bird balls in their pockets.