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©May 2002

Carol Jane Remsburg



Pets for My Pets



Now in addition to the dog, the cats, and the hermit crabs, we now feed the birds.  This isn't a dainty little feeder specialized for the songbirds or the unique birds.  This is a feeder for all comers.  This isn't just an educational ploy for the family; this is entertainment for our cats.


What began over the last few years during the winter months and especially when we had severe winter weather has transformed entirely into something else. 


It all began with a bad winter storm, a true blizzard.  Erin was  five then and we kept getting back-to-back snowstorms every Friday thru Saturday.  This was in January and February of 1996.  At first it was six inches and before that could go away we had another eight inches only to be followed by something like ten inches and on and on.  The exact amounts of snowfall I wish I'd recorded but I'm sure NOAA or The WeatherChannel has those records somewhere.  It seemed to snow heavily every week for about four weeks and that wasn't something that EVER happened around here in recent memory.


I have to admit that it was me who started it all.  The birds were desperate for food and couldn't scratch far down enough to get anything.  The snow was too thick and the layers of ice beneath were just too much for them.  Having no birdseed on hand, I opted to take advantage of clearing out the cabinet where the fourteen boxes of cereal were slowly going stale.  With a six year-old in the house there's always cereal going uneaten.


The birds who were there were the plain but desperate sparrows, the shy wrens who had become bold, and the starlings who were actually gracious in the face of such bounty.  The cardinals were superior and snotty, like always, in appearance but as soon as they thought your back was turned they scrapped just as hard for the food as any street fighter.  The mourning doves at least sang for their supper.  But all that paled when the chicken showed up.


Here it was 7 degrees outside with the wind howling at a steady 15 miles an hour with gusts close to 30 with more snow on the way—and a chicken shows up!  How it survived the tumble off a chicken truck about a mile off the highway and found its way to my house I'll never know.  You couldn't help but feel sorry for it, and the damned thing was really hungry too. 


All this happened on a Saturday morning after an intense snowfall the day and night before and that day didn't look too promising for any clearing of the weather.  This was the third week of consecutive snow.  It was deep and even what I'd managed to sweep away the wind kept drifting in and this was on the protected side of the house, the front.


In truth there weren't sixteen boxes of cereal, but there were six and most of them full.  They all went to the birds that set about the cereal leavings as a ravening unit.  It was gone in less than 30 minutes.  I watched them and couldn't believe my eyes.  Then they didn't leave—especially not the chicken.  They were out of the wind and had found a food source and weren't about to give ground. 


Then they spied me at the window watching them.  As a group they seemed to watch me back, hopping here and pecking there, putting on their most forlorn appearance.  What a group of little actors they were.  I have to admit the wrens knew how to put on a show best, but that damned chicken looked me square in the eye and tried to stare me down.  The chicken won.


Kitchen cabinets were flung open seeking whatever might be at hand to feed the starving masses pecking at my windowpane.  I knew if I didn't hurry up a bit this could end up like something out of the "Twilight Zone" while shades of "The Birds" lurked in the back of my mind.


Two full boxes of crushed saltine crackers later—I was back at the window and so were they.  It was all gone.


By now it was snowing again and the wind was fluttering their feathers.  They didn't have to reach far to appear pitiful.  Meanwhile, the chicken cast about a baleful eye and found me immediately.  He/she/it seemed to think I was the cause of all its misery and was likely the only one to correct the problem.  And it was waiting for me to correct it forthwith.  That chicken was certainly one hungry little bugger.


By just after 2 PM, the sky changed from a threatening, heavy look to one of near dusk.  The snow was coming down and the wind was blowing and was few scraps that were left had quickly been covered up by the snow and the blowing winds.  And still that chicken stared and waited.


Now during all this, our big tomcat, Spike, was situated on the ledge at the window.  He chattered, shuddered, and was thoroughly entertained by all the birds.  And how he wanted them!  Trust me, if he were allowed out in that blowing, icy cold and faced that chicken, he would have been the one to run but poor old Spikey didn't know that.  Stupid cat!


Meanwhile, with that chicken eyeing me and little Erin, who had worried over the poor birds, it was time to pull out all the stops.  They were waiting.  What did I have to feed them?


Upon further search of the cabinets I found two oversized containers of Quaker Old-fashioned Oats that I had bought planning to make oatmeal cookies out of.  As oats are 'light' in nature I knew they'd blow away if I were just to toss them out.  I bundled up and grabbed my broom.  Before I could lay down further feed I had to clear away a space.  It didn't take me 30 seconds to realize the broom wasn't much good.  I was going to have to shovel first.  So I shoveled and then used the broom to clear away as much space as I could.  All the other birds left the area temporarily while I grunted and complained—that chicken never moved a bloody inch.  It just kept "ca-cawing" me in a tone that wasn't to be considered cajoling or even close to polite.  It was more of a malevolent call with dire undertones of what it might try to do to me if I didn't hurry up.  I took the hint.  I'm not often slow on the upswing with animals and this chicken was no dummy.


By 4 PM my shoveling and sweeping efforts had disappeared, so had the oats.  I had watched.  They had allowed no oat to go uneaten. 


It was really getting dark out and the wind gusts had begun to howl.  All the little birds had been fed well and truly and had fled to hide from the cold and the wind.  Even the mourning doves had had enough—all but the chicken.  He/she remained.  It appeared that he/she was STILL hungry.


Let's see, we'd been through the cereal, the crackers, and those two enormous canisters of oats.  What next?  I'm sure it didn't help that the bird had probably caught a whiff of the turkey from the vent fan that I had in the oven that was now resting before I sliced it up.  Talk about facing your fears?!


Dinner came and dishes were washed up.  Even Spike, the cat, had tired of bird watching.  It was full dark now and I couldn't see outside very well even with the front porch light.  But I knew that damned chicken was there. 


I went back outside and he/she 'cawed' at me.  It was so bitter and frigid.  I had no place to put the damned thing to keep it safe.  Hubby had kept after me all day about it.  Here I am worried about a chicken that had been bound for slaughter—and possibly for anyone's dinner table—on a cold winter's night.  It had survived the fall from the truck, been well fed and had shelter from the worst of the wind.  What more could I do?  I tossed out the last of the potato chips in the house.


Then I ran like a rabbit and curled up in bed with a book and tried really hard not to think about that damned chicken out there in the dark and the cold and the snow and the wind.  Dumb chicken!


That night it again 'blew and it snew and it was bitterly cold.'  I was up several times in the night but in the dark I couldn't see a thing through the frosted windows even with the front porch light on. 


I was up early on Sunday.  It would be one of those hard, sharp cold days with the sun making the snow brilliant but without warmth.  The cold air was full of teeth but the winds had finally died.


That damned chicken was still there. 


Believe it or not I had worried that it had frozen to death during the night which hadn't made my sleep any better.  The chicken was quite awake and alert by 6 AM when the first glimmers of light came.  And he looked mean.  No, he didn't look mean, he looked pissed-off, just as if his best friend had done him the worst turn and he was looking for a fight.


I may have forgotten to mention that this wasn't a 'little' chicken but a BIG chicken—mature rooster-sized.  He had to be a Perdue® Oven Stuffer breed and this bad-boy/girl had an attitude to go with it.  You could almost hear: "Where's my breakfast!  Where's my warm room?!!?  If somebody doesn't correct this problem in the next fifteen seconds there will be hell to pay!"


Yes, you can get all that from one 'chicken-look.'  It made me think twice about venturing out in the snow and the cold.  Yet it wasn't just him there, the smaller birdies were back too, singing and chirping for their breakfast.  Here they all were at a house that never fed them prior to the day before.  I was stuck.


I found I had cornmeal, two 3 pound bags, some barley about 2 pounds, and  3 boxes of macaroni that I crushed up.  They devoured it after I had shoveled some more and swept some more.  That chicken just shuffled sideways and gave me a glare as I made way before laying out the food. 


Later in the day, it warmed up and the snow began to melt a bit.  All who arrived were fed well.  The chicken ate the largest portion and I withdrew.  More cold weather without snow was coming.  I didn't have the wherewithal to keep him fed so I didn't bring out any more in hopes that he might find a better sanctuary.


He was still there at 6 PM and I didn't have anything else to offer outside of the last of our bread and I decided those 4 slices weren't going to make much of a difference.  I don't think he'd gotten over the scent of roasted turkey in the air.


By Monday morning he'd moved on, hopefully to a safer place.  The cold spell had broken and the snow began to melt with a vengeance.  Patches of ground opened up and with them meager fodder for the birds.


In the next week I bought my first bag of birdseed.  I kept buying it and spreading it throughout the winter months.  Come late April I usually stopped.  My felines eagerly watch, chitter, and are entertained.


This year we didn't just spread the feed on the ground.  We put up a real bird feeder, one they can go through 10-15 pounds a day.  No, we don't have the 'pretty' birds like all the others.  We take all comers from the starlings, the red-winged black birds, the crows, the sparrows, the mourning doves, the brown-headed cowbirds, the finches, the cardinals, and even now with the robins and the jays.  Some wrens come and a few titmice but none will ever equal the unabashed avarice of that damned chicken during that horrible winter of endless snowstorms. 


Now we have not only the one birdfeeder that they all adore, but the hummingbird feeder, the butterfly house, and even the doggone bat-house!  There isn't an errant hungry soul that passes by without consideration. 


Our pets, the cats, now have their own pets.  The watch, they chitter, and they wiggle.  They want those birds so bad, but the birds know they are safe and well fed.


The only time we couldn't accommodate was that time with the baby skunk, but that's another story.


Yes, our pets have pets—the birds.  We humans in the house have a bird book and we anxiously thumb through the pages trying to figure out just who came to visit.  Trust me, they don't make it easy.  But the cats don't care.  They love it and spend nearly every daylight hour watching or snoozing at their station.


You just gotta love that.  Life is weird, but then we are all part of that crazy equation.  Go figure!



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