I put up my bird feeders just a week ago, and already I’ve settled into a routine: In the morning, I fill them. As the day passes, I check them for new and exciting visitors, my binoculars and camera set on the windowsill and the Sibley nearby. And every time I leave my apartment, I yell “Oy, squirrels!” so that they’ll do me the courtesy of getting off the feeder and waiting on the fence until I’m out of sight.

The squirrel issue has been hashed and rehashed in nearly every forum where birders and bird feeder fans gather. I don’t intend to get into the eternal debate between the faction that favors an anti-squirrel battle of wits, and those who prefer a hippie-zen love for all creatures approach. (Although I will note that for Pete’s sake, DO NOT DO THIS.) I wish merely to observe and record.

Dark-eyed Junco on a bird feeder
And maybe, someday, learn to take pictures.

The squirrels this year are chunky. I dubbed the first one I saw “Biggie Squirrels” and thought that she was perhaps a special case, maybe the beneficiary of one of my overly-generous neighbors or an unsecured garbage can. But no, it turns out they’re all little butterballs this season. I suppose the Farmer’s Almanac would say this presaged a hard winter, so if we do turn out to get a lot of snow, you heard it here first. But maybe, like the Evening Grosbeaks, they’re merely postsaging a good seed year.

Whether because they’re already sated or because they can’t move as fast as usual at a waddle, I had a full twenty-four hours between when I first filled my feeder and when the squirrels arrived. This pleased me, and it also pleased me when the Black-capped Chickadees were the first to show up. Chickadees are delightful on many levels, and when it comes to feeders in particular, I’ve been wondering lately whether there’s more to them than we even know.

Around the side of my building, just outside the living room window that doesn’t face my feeder, is a tangled bush in which some previous tenant hung a suet feeder. It’s never been filled in the two years I’ve lived here, it just dangles in the weather, an empty cage to confuse and perhaps horrify some future archaeologist. (“We hypothesize that this device was used to sacrifice frogs to the rain god….”) Nevertheless, a little over a week ago, I heard chick-a-dee-ing and looked out to see two birds perched on the erstwhile feeder, pecking it over in case some stray bit might remain.

This inspired me to fill my own feeder. It also made me wonder: do older birds, venerable ancestors of three or four, teach young Chickadees that there was once food to be found there? Have they learned that the green wire mesh is a visual cue for food (it is, after all, a common design)? Or did they just happen to light there in the course of working over the whole shrub, at the moment when I looked out? If I wasn’t so lazy, there would probably be a whole series of good experiments in that one observation.

But at least I wasn’t too lazy to go buy seed. Besides the Black-capped Chickadees, so far I’ve welcome a Northern Flicker, House Finches, and large flocks of my beloved Dark-eyed Juncos. The Evening Grosbeaks haven’t come down and graced my yard yet. But maybe soon. If the squirrels don’t clean me out first.

Written by Carrie
Carrie Laben, after years of writing and birding in New York, moved to Montana to pursue her two great passions more effectively. She recently graduated with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Montana in Missoula. When she is not cranking out essays and speculative fiction stories, or wandering around on mountains failing to see the birds she is looking for, she is likely to be drinking one of the many fine local microbrews or attending a potluck with something from the local farmer’s market in hand. On Mondays from 3 to 3:30 Mountain Time you can find her answering questions about birds on live chat at DaysAtDunrovin.com.