All of my backyard's a stage thanks to a full bird feeder

About six feet from my kitchen window hangs a green metal bird feeder. I fill it every morning as the eastern sky pales and rosy rays seep through thin clouds. Because I removed the plexiglass panel a few years back, the feeder serves as a covered way station. Doling out birdseed is one way of combating the raiding raccoons that straddle the high wires and fling themselves onto the feeder. In only a few minutes they scoop up a pound of seed, plop to the ground, and waddle off.

I sprinkle seed along the window ledge and fill the thistle feeder. The twittering juncos and chickadees hover in the honeysuckle bushes. While I wash the breakfast dishes, titmice, house finches, and goldfinches squabble over the perches on the thistle feeder. The braver birds land on the windowsill, cock an eye at me, snatch a seed, and zip off. A blue jay rakes through the seeds in the feeder, sending a waterfall of millet to the ground where morning doves and tree sparrows peck away. While the story portrayed is unending, the antics of the actors tickle me and speed the job of washing dishes.

A clever vole dug a hole beneath the feeder and enjoys the stream of food that tumbles down his shaft into his abode. Sometimes in the predawn, I have discovered a screech owl posed on one of the posts supporting the feeder. His amber eyes stare into mine as he waits for breakfast. By first light he vanishes, but his voice ripples often through our woods.

Once, while observing the daily performance, a flurry of wings burst amid the ground crew. Gray, red, blue, and golden feathers scattered as the little birds took cover in the surrounding bushes and polk berry stalks. A merlin paused on the snowy earth, and lifted off with empty talons. A few chickadee feathers tumbled about, but the prey had escaped.

The true scourges of the local bird cafe are the squirrels. When I notice that the sparrows and finches are huddled in the thickets, I look for squirrels. The cocky gray squirrel sits beneath the green metal roof stuffing himself, and the black one combs the ground for sunflower seeds.

"Squirrel!" I shout. My corgi leaps from the sofa and we run for the back door. Before Robin Goodfellow's paws hit the snow, the squirrels leap and race for the nearest tree.

Due to the depth of snow, and Robin's short legs, the chase is more of a game than a hot pursuit. The squirrels scold us from their perch. Standing just outside the house, I hear the trill of the cardinal along with the "Peter, Peter" of the tufted titmouse and the low whistle of the chickadee. Hints of spring warm me on a frigid morning.

Soon the somber juncos will fly north and the showy rose-breasted grosbeak will splash its colors among the pale green leaves of the honeysuckle. The cardinals will bring their young to dine at my feeder. The seasons change along with the actors, but the daily drama at our small outdoor theater continues year-round.

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