The Suitcase Lady


January 21, 2014, 7:54 pm

Counting birds is akin to numbering popcorn kernels as they explode in the kettle. How can it possibly be done accurately?

But last month there was a knock on the door and our local bird expert asked if we could count the birds coming into The Tooley Cafe for the  afternoon. Apparently our well stocked cafe is known as a “hot spot” for birds. We confessed to total inexperience in bird numbering, but readily agreed to give it a try.

We asked for advice on how to avoid counting the same bird numerous times, and the reply was  “Just do your best, it’s difficult”. Unfortunately, birds can’t be tagged with paint like the sheep in Ireland.

The temperature was zero outside, but we were warm inside sitting or hovering near the kitchen table where there is a direct view of all our feeders. Because of the freezing temperature, the birds  were in need of plenty of calories and the cafe was an ongoing flurry of activity. Our best efforts for six hours yielded the following results:

  • 3 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 1 Red Bellied Woodpecker
  • 4 Chickadees
  • 8 Cardinals
  • 4 Blue Jays
  • 9 Goldfinch
  • 10 Mourning Doves
  • 8 Juncos
  • 19 Sparrows

Last week a brutal Arctic cold front moved in. Temperatures plunged to minus 16 below and constant winds roared for three days. I worried constantly about our birds. My husband kept the feeders filled to the top, put piles of seeds on the ground and added 5 extra suet cakes as well as a big pan of water with a heater in it. I turned my kitchen chair to face away from the window: it was too hard watching the few birds who were braving the gale winds.

The happiest moment of the week was when the temperature got back to thirty degrees and scores of birds converged in our Cafe. I know the birds’ survival can be explained with scientific facts. However, how a tiny one ounce bird can endure Arctic weather conditions seems to be simply a miracle.


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