Feeding the Animals

Feeding the Animals

I keep four birdfeeders around my small house in downtown New Haven: a big wide metal tubular one in the backyard, a rectangular one dangling off the side porch, and two cheap plastic birdfeeders hanging outside windows near my study desk and a favored reading chair.

That may seem like a lot for a house in a densely populated city neighborhood. But I can’t fill the birdfeeders fast enough. If I chose to spend as much on seed, I estimate I could go through 50 pounds of it a week.

My feeders entertain bluejays, cardinals, titmice, finches, blackbirds, robins, turtle doves and lots of less-interesting-to-look-at birds. Recently we’ve been entertaining a family of nuthatches. An old birdwatching guide I got years ago at a used bookstore in town assured that nuthatches weren’t common to this region, but the illustration and described mannerisms in the book matched the birds exactly. They hang at odd angles off the feeder and jut out their necks and heads so they resemble one of those nozzle-tipped bags of frosting you use to decorate cakes. When I Googled “nuthatch Connecticut” I found that they’re now well known in this state.

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Once, years ago, a wild turkey waltzed down our driveway. Another time, a wild parakeet flew into the house through an upstairs window and hung around for most of the afternoon. We suspect it was from that flock of parakeets which populate several trees in Edgewood Park about a mile from our house. The colorful bird drove one of our cats crazy; she leaped several feet straight up in the air chasing after, like something out of a video game.

Oh yes, the cats. The family’s housed around a dozen of them over the years. Two of them, both now sadly deceased, were given to my wife by friends who could no longer care for them. The rest were strays. One was born in the moat-like pit surrounding Yale’s Sterling Library, and was rescued by a librarian who kept the kitten in a box at her desk for a day until finding a home—mine—for him. We once found a litter of three kittens in our backyard. One cat, still with us, was a regular visitor to our firewood pile, until one day we found that she’d snuck into the house (we still don’t know how) and fallen asleep on our couch. This was clearly a cat that trusted us.

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There is urban wildlife all around us. Raccoons and opossums have visited our compost pile. We’ve got friends who’ve kept chickens, or bees. I once helped a badger cross a highway, and helped a turtle who’d flipped over a curbside get back on its feet.

Urban naturalists will have noticed the incursion of black squirrels—a largely Midwestern breed—in Connecticut in recent years. Yeah, they’re squirrels, but they add some variety to the neighborhood since they’re smaller and friskier than the gray ones we’re all so used to. Online research indicates that black squirrels are a rarity in most of the state, and are mostly seen in Fairfield County or Wallingford or Cheshire, but I catch the little guys cavorting on my block on a daily basis.

New Haven, with its East and West Rocks and its harbor and its many parks, doesn’t have to be reminded that nature is all around us, even when homes are brick and surrounded with asphalt driveways and streets. The furious storms of October brought trees crashing onto buildings.

They also brought out the birds. There were more needy birds at my birdfeeders than I’ve seen in ages. Flustered, they flocked to my small backyard in search of shelter and sustenance—which, in my case, consists of bags of seed purchased two blocks away at Stop & Shop.

The birdman of New Haven. What a flight of fancy.

Written by Christopher Arnott.

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