The Bullies at Our Feeder

By Marcy Barthelette

The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made. Psalm 145:9 ESV

Being the outdoor enthusiasts we are, Ken and I love to make our yard attractive to lots of critters. That means planting perennials, shrubs, and trees that will provide food and habitat as well as winter cover. It also means providing food during harsh winter weather. Our oaks provide lots of acorns for squirrels and other critters who find their well-hidden stashes. Our holly bushes create a safe place for birds and mammals to hide under and within. And when the snow falls, we keep a couple of bird feeders full as well as provide suet. We feel blessed when bright flashes of red indicate the cardinals have found our smorgasbord of seeds. The cute little nuthatches entertain us with their trumpet-like call as they work the tree bark from the top down. They always work upside down to separate insects from the bark. Then there are the juncos who gather in good-sized numbers on the ground at the base of the feeding area and engage in clean-up duty. In between, we entertain various finches, wrens, and sparrows. In recent years, a few doves have accepted the invitation to a hearty meal.

My favorite is the red-bellied woodpecker. No one I’ve ever talked with can understand the name. The large bird has a bright red stripe on top of its head but none on the belly. There is a slight wash of pink but no true red. Its body is a mass of black and white striping, making it a very splashy-colored bird. Though it’s classified as a mid-sized woodpecker, its ungainly form makes eating from a feeder an act of true determination. They are too large for the feeder perches and often cling to the feeder upside down to garner the much-coveted seed. When they attack a suet cake, their bodies cover the entire feeder. Even though they are very inventive when it comes to extracting food from the feeders, they don’t intimidate smaller birds or hog the seed.

Our backyard comes alive when snow is on the ground and the feathered friends can’t forage as they normally would. We so enjoy watching their funny antics. For a while, at least, the bird buffet is a most friendly and communal experience.

And then, out of nowhere, swoops a great crowd of blackbirds. I refer to them as blackbirds because I’ve learned that several types flock together and make it more difficult for amateur bird enthusiasts to identify the species. I typically call them Grackles but they may well be Starlings. One truth supersedes species identification. These large and intimidating birds are bullies at the feeder. Their sheer numbers scare the smaller birds away. They overtake every perch and refuse to allow anyone else to eat. Their table manners are atrocious. They’re not happy to hog every perch, they also throw seed to the ground so that all their friends can eat the overflow. All the other birds are forced to wait from the cover of trees and bushes until they leave and when they do, the feeders are likely to be empty. I get so tired of accommodating these raucous, ravenous bullies that I often give up feeding the birds. That isn’t fair to our other feathered friends who bring so much enjoyment to our lives, but I wonder why I should put the seed and suet out if a huge flock of bullies is only going to take it all for themselves. And then I remember those Grackles and Starlings, whichever they may be, are God’s creations too. And while they are certainly disdained for their total decimation of croplands, they also create those phenomenal skyscapes that we sometimes witness when thousands of them flock together. In the icy cold of a winter storm, they’re probably just as hungry as our other more agreeable little feathered friends. Yet, I am reluctant to feed them.

Do I treat my fellow humans the same way? Are they hungry as well? Do I see people as undesirable & not do all I can to feed them both literally and figuratively? And what, if anything, can I do to help alleviate that need?

The answer seems obvious, doesn’t it. So, why then, can’t I stop judging people by the tone of their political rhetoric, the color of their skin, their level of cleanliness? In short, why can’t I overlook their bad table manners that often resemble the bad habits of my backyard bullies? Because I’m human and I need lots of help from someone who is much larger and stronger and more capable than I am.

Help me, God, to humble myself and see all your creations, human and otherwise, as you see them and to love accordingly.

True humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less. Rick Warren

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